Tony Abbott’s rhetoric is informative. Here is a quotation from the SMH:
“I absolutely understand people’s anger,” Mr Abbott said. “On the other hand, we do not want to make a difficult situation worse and the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by. So I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry but we’ve got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse.
The extract contains a linguistic trick that Abbott uses often.
“I absolutely understand people’s anger,” which is then repeated in a slightly different form “So I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry (but…)”
First there is an attempt to show empathy with people (I’m not certain that splitting an infinitive is the best way of doing this, but then I’m a pedant) “I absolutely understand”.
Then he repeats himself, a technique he uses a lot and adds an extra layer of empathy “So I would say to people yes”. He frequently uses the empathetic touch as a lead-in to explaining why he is not going to show any empathy whatsoever.
In between these two attempts at Abbott-esque empathy comes the kicker “Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by.”
A simple word count: 19 words empathy, 59 words of why we shouldn’t be empathetic. That’s a 1 to 3 ratio of empathy to realpolitik.
Tony Abbott weighs his options on the Bali executions
Tony Abbott is between a rock and a hard place on this issue. Indonesia is a sovereign state and has the right to decide what penalties it hands out to people convicted in its criminal courts. It has opted for the death penalty for a number of crimes including drug-trafficking and there is very little that Australia can do to change the situation, either in specific cases or in general.
Indonesia is not alone in its use of the death penalty. Thirty-two countries have the death penalty for drug smuggling, according to Harm Reduction International (HRI), a drug-focused NGO. All but four (America, Cuba, Sudan and South Sudan) are in Asia or the Middle East.
China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, United States, Yemen, Pakistan and North Korea have executed the most prisoners for drug offences. When you look at the list, Australia is diplomatically cosy with a number of these countries.
For all the outrage executions have engendered the world over, decapitations are routine in Saudi Arabia, America’s closest Arab ally, for crimes including political dissent—and the international press hardly seems to notice. In fact, since January, 59 people have had their heads lopped off in the kingdom,
And the Australian Government is not going to start making waves with one of its allies in the “war against terror” in the Middle East. But you wonder if the soldiers serving overseas look at what’s going on in Saudi Arabia and wonder what they’re actually doing over there.
Naturally enough, people feel very strongly when their own nationals are executed overseas for a crime that does not carry the death penalty at home. Especially when they are executed in a country that the Prime Minister has been endeavouring to construct a “strong relationship” with.
Clearly the strong relationship doesn’t include the Indonesian, President Joko Widodo, intervening in his country’s legal processes.
Jokowi “Expect me to do what?”
And in fairness, we wouldn’t expect Tony Abbott to intervene in Australia’s legal processes and overturn due process at the behest of an overseas power.
So the hard facts of the matter are that while Australians are appalled at the use of capital punishment, the government has very little power to influence judicial decisions in countries that use the death penalty. And, it would appear in the case of Indonesia, that what Tony Abbott may see as a “strong relationship”, doesn’t add up to much in this case.
And we do need to keep in mind, as no doubt the Indonesians do, is that we have a bad track record on Indonesian sovereignty. In January 2014, Australian warships’s “strayed” into Indonesian territorial waters.
And then there was the time (2013) when that the Australian Signals Directorate attempted to monitor the mobile phone calls of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife Kristiani Herawati, and senior officials.
Yet, in the light of the way that the Indonesian government has treated the Australian government over this particular issue, it’s likely the most Australians would wonder why we try so hard with the Indonesians.