I must be going through a particularly grumpy phase of middle age at the moment. It’s not often these days that I find myself so peeved by a TV current affairs story that I can’t resist resorting to a cathartic blog post.
But that was certainly the effect of an item about the so-called “Bali Nine” group of alleged heroin smugglers on this evening’s ABC 7.30 Report . The propaganda line of Kerry and his comrades was signalled by the Red One’s introductory remarks:
Welcome to the program. For the Australian alleged heroin smugglers known as the Bali 9, who could face a firing squad after being arrested and charged on Indonesian soil. It’s a blunt question of life and death. But did it have to be that way? Right from the start there have been questions about why the Australian Federal Police, who were tipped off before the bust, didn’t wait to arrest them when they arrived back on home soil. Two of the alleged drug mules have taken action in Federal Court, claiming the AFP acted illegally in assisting the Indonesian police, exposing them to the death penalty they would not have faced if convicted here in Australia. Now, an explosive letter has emerged from evidence presented in Bali, revealing the AFP gave Indonesian authorities detailed advanced information of the plot as well as instructions to “take whatever action was appropriate”. That “action” may well lead to the death penalty for at least some of the nine if they’re found guilty.
The spin was then perfected by a carefully chosen group of talking heads who developed the predictable ABC/Fairfax line: a mouthpiece for the national lawyers’ union, a disgruntled ex-AFP intelligence operative, and a federal ALP hack (son of the egregious Queensland Godfather Ludwig no less) who said nothing at all but still managed to convey the desired impression that the AFP were stooges of the evil, heartless Howard government.
Viewers weren’t permitted even the faintest hint that the 7.30 Report’s hypothesis, that the AFP should have refrained from taking any action at all against the Bali Nine until they had returned to Australia with their deadly cargo lest the poor naive drug “mules” be exposed to needless risk of the death penalty at the hands of the corrupt Indonesians, might be anything less than blindingly and self-evidently correct.
But what would actually have happened if the AFP had followed the advice of Kezza and his PC luvvie mates? For a start, some of the “mules” might have ended up slipping through the police net and unloading their deadly cargo on vulnerable young Australian kids. And it would have been a lay down misere that the alleged Australian kingpins of the syndicate, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, would then have escaped successful prosecution. Both appear to have been fairly careful not to have any heroin on their persons, and it’s a fair bet that both would have possessed more than enough influence to ensure that the “mules” were intimidated out of any temptation they might have felt to do a deal and assist the Prosecution to nail them.
Lastly, such an approach would have represented a conclusive abdication of any responsibility to make the slightest attempt to detect and ensnare the ultimate South-East Asian suppliers of the drugs. Only active co-operation with Indonesian authorities could have achieved that result. As it turned out, the incompetence (if not worse) of Indonesian surveillance efforts meant that the suppliers managed to slip through the net anyway. But failing even to notify the Indonesians of the impending plot in advance would have precluded the making of any attempt at all to detect and catch the suppliers.
“Mules” are cheap and expendable. The approach advocated by the 7.30 Report would have ensured that this particular heroin importation ring continued unimpeded, and that the rare opportunity to take decisive action in advance was completely squandered.
Whether you think this would have been a humane, enlightened and effective approach probably depends on whether you think a preventative, law enforcement-based approach to narcotics control is a good idea, by comparison with a harm minimisation or similar philosophy. There are respectable arguments in both directions. But choosing between them is a policy issue with which the AFP has no legitimate business. Its brief under current laws requires a tough law enforcement approach, which necessarily involves extensive intelligence co-operation with our near neighbours to have any chance of being effective.
I’m much less than sanguine about the notion of enmeshing our law enforcement agencies with systems relying heavily on capital punishment, still less with the prospect of excessively close ties with regimes like Indonesia whose justice system is notoriously riddled with corruption (despite pleasing democratic and other advances in recent years). But it’s difficult to see any viable alternative. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all have the death penalty for narcotic trafficking offences. If we accept the 7.30 Report’s assertion that Australian authorities should be precluded from co-operating with any foreign government whose laws prescribe capital punishment, we are essentially accepting that Australia should give up any meaningful attempt to control the drug trade. Funny that Kezza failed to mention that small detail. Shouldn’t we insist on a full public debate before implementing such a radical change in policy? Or is that only necessary when the government is contemplating policies that contradict the left’s ingrained prejudices (like tough anti-terrorism laws, for instance)?