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Australia's friendship with Indonesia is bruised but should not break

  • 01 May 2015

This week Australia mourns the loss of the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — reformed prisoners both, priest and artist respectively.

In 2005, our nation wept for the life of Van Tuong Nguyen. Now here we stand again. It is a dark day. The real darkness, though, concerns what we have become.

It's not time to run away from Indonesia. It's time to humbly embrace it. With mercy.

The war on drugs in Indonesia is an appeal to state sovereignty, an attempt to whip up votes and promise security against an enigmatic threat.

This theme is familiar to Australia. The war on terror. Stop the boats. Since February last year, four people have died in Australian immigration detention centres, and countless others are dying a slow death via psychological attrition because they pose an illusory threat to our 'security'.

Parading the importance of state sovereignty and domestic politics above humanity promotes xenophobia, and the burden will inevitably be borne by foreigners. It ignores equality and the connection all of us have to each other by virtue of our very humanity. It refuses mercy.

Today, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia — the 'most important relationship' espoused by our Prime Minister — is aching. The friendship is bruised again, but it must not break.

There have been mistakes on both sides. Australia has taken the seas of Indonesian fishermen, it has burnt their boats, it has locked up their children with adults, it has mandatorily sentenced the victims of human trafficking for people smuggling.

Australia polluted our neighbour's closest province with oil that destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people, and never acknowledged it or cleaned it up. Australia has breached Indonesian borders with its naval ships. It has pushed boats seeking asylum back into Indonesian waters.

Now Indonesia has demonstrated its sovereignty by killing eight prisoners, including two Australians.

People are saying we must boycott Bali, that we must not go to Indonesia. While I understand these sentiments, I do not think this is the answer. To stay within our borders would only maintain the status quo. Instead we must embrace our neighbours and rekindle our friendship.

The Indonesian people and the Indonesian government are two different things. Just as many people in Australia do not presume that their current government speaks for their interests, so, too, many Indonesians are brokenhearted at what their own government has done.

Andrew and Myuran deeply cared for those around