The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


PT Schapelle: Making crime pay                                     

First, an apology to the Indonesian people.

Regret for the way some sections of the Australian media are giving the impression that paroled prisoner Schapelle Corby, 36, is a heroine deserving fame and worthy of respect. 

She’s not a splendid athlete who’s won gold at the Sochi Winter Olympics after years of gruelling training. Nor is she a humanitarian aid worker awarded for rescuing refugees. 

Goodness, she’s not even a sinetron star heading for another divorce, just one more convicted drug smuggler with no known laudable qualities. Hardly the ideal role model most families want for their daughters.

Yet after almost ten years inside Bali’s Kerobokan jail for trying to import more than four kilos of marihuana into Indonesia, the high school dropout reportedly stands to collect up to AUD $3 million (Rp 32 billion). The windfall for exclusive interviews with women’s magazines and tabloid television programs.

This is twice the amount she’d have got by winning a Nobel Prize after a lifetime jiggling test tubes in a cramped laboratory seeking a cure for cancer.

At Rp 3.2 billion for every year behind bars it’s also more than double the salary of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  While she marked time he ran the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Even if Corby had stayed out of strife, got some qualifications and moved beyond working as a part-time  ‘beauty therapist’ in Queensland, it would have taken the rest of her adult life to garner such money.

No one would wish to be banged up in the overcrowded Hotel K with people you’d never want to meet again. There are reports she suffered mentally, as do many prisoners who get no compensation for their misery.

If Corby stays in Bali she’ll probably keep the cash.  Australia has proceeds of crime legislation to stop prisoners making money from their misdeeds, but similar laws don’t exist in Indonesia.

If this indicates a society with no appetite for criminals’ sob stories then Indonesia is far more mature than its southern neighbor.

Not all Australian journalists are slathering to learn about Corby’s nasi goreng diet and encounters with cockroaches, both six and two-legged. Having continually claimed innocence, it’s unlikely the Ganja Queen will now confess to being a drug runner and dob in her gang.  Now that would be a real scoop.

Serious commentators (those who don’t have cheque books) have been using Corby’s parole as an opportunity to take a hard look at Australia’s relationship with its northern neighbor and the national obsession with the story.

Compare the media’s response towards that of another Australian, Renae Lawrence. She’s Corby’s age, also got 20 years for carrying drugs into Bali, but gets little attention. 

On the surface the former panel beater seems more deserving of concern because of her tough childhood in an allegedly dysfunctional family.

When she was arrested her father told reporters that Lawrence was ‘gullible, naïve and bloody stupid (though) not a bad kid’ who got caught up with the wrong crowd.

Maybe – but to do victimhood well it helps to be telegenic. The plain-faced lesbian lacks the feminine figure of her better-groomed cellmate, a woman oozing innocence.  Who needs alibis when you’ve got glittering blue eyes?

Corby looks like the standard Aussie surf-chick preening at Ngurah Rai’s baggage carousel, thirsting for a good time on paradise island, ready to let it all hang out. Even her name evokes mystery; who’d show interest in a Mabel or Enid?

The commentariat observes Corby represents every Aussie’s daughter, sister or girlfriend, an innocent abroad unaware (or unconcerned) that foreign nations have different laws. But for the grace of God there goes someone we know.

In any case, so the thinking runs, ‘everyone knows’ Indonesian authorities are lax and corrupt, more likely to focus on a blonde’s cleavage than her boogie board. 

Corby’s sentencing, streamed live on TV, a practice not allowed in Australian courts, opened the rusty can of racism.  The Indonesian judges were abused and the legal process shamefully slammed because proceedings weren’t in English.

Lobby groups convinced of Corby’s innocence have campaigned with savage intensity. Supporters and conspiracy theorists argue no one would take marihuana to Bali when it’s far cheaper than in Australia.  They claim criminal baggage handlers put the drug in Corby’s bag, and that this evidence was ignored for sinister reasons.

Despite this, polls show most Australians now think the Indonesian court probably got the verdict right but the sentence wrong.

There have been several books on the Corby case and now a telemovie. Her family has scored some wins against the media, getting handsome payouts for copyright infringements and defamation.

There’s no sign PT Schapelle will be out of business anytime soon, meaning less space for stories of worth that impact the lives of millions.


(First published in The Jakarta Post, 11 February 2013)

1 comment:

Erik said...

Spot on, Duncan. Appalling.