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Bob Ellis: Notes on the murders of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

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Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran – along with six other prisoners – were barbarically gunned down by Indonesian President Joko Widodo overnight. Before and after the killings occurred, Bob Ellis reflected on what more could have been done.

2.43 am

The nine executions by firing squad, the ABC subtitle says, will occur ‘after 3 am’.

What else might Abbott have done to save them? He signed some letters, made some phone calls Widodo refused to take. What else could he have done?

Let me count the ways.

He might have realised, before this, it is in part, it is in large part about money, and Widodo by these executions will save $2 million or $3 million he might else have spent on the care and upkeep of Chan and Sukumaran for 50 or 60 years. If he had been offered, say, $6 million for their accommodation and food for 15 years, after which they would be let go in, say, 2030, he might have considered it. He might have considered it.

If he had been offered $20 million for letting them come home now, and serve five more years in an Australian prison and then be let go, he might have given it some thought.

If he had been offered $50 million "ransom", along with similar sums from other countries with nationals on his death row, it would, perhaps, have persuaded him. Or not.

If Abbott had offered to take in 5,000 boat people plus all the Bali Nine, he would have said yes. He will have spent, in the next ten years, a billion dollars on those detainees, and he would have liked – really liked, I think – to have saved it.

Abbott could have threatened, plausibly, to ban all Australians from going to Bali for five years. Eighty Australians were killed there, in the Sari Club, he could have argued and this will be two more.

So much of this is about money and Abbott, a fool, hasn’t noticed this.

If Abbott had offered, as Howard eventually did in the case of David Hicks, to let them see out their term, of another ten years, in an Australian prison, he might have had second thoughts.

3.37 am

Eight executions have taken place. The Filipino woman, Mary Jane Veloso, has been, for the moment, reprieved.

And I continue, with a sigh, my now redundant hypotheticals. What might have been.

A threat to end all aid to Indonesia for five years might have wedged Widodo — or not. If that threat had been echoed by other countries with prisoners on his death row it might have convinced him. It might.

Abbott, moreover, should have done weeks ago what Cowell, Brown, Rush, Pearce and Mailman beseeched him to do last night, turn up in Jakarta and ask at the airport for a meeting. If he was refused the meeting, he could have recalled our ambassador, discontinued our aid money, asked other countries to do likewise and flown home.

He was unwise to say, on Saturday, of our Anzacs, they did their duty, it’s time we did ours; or words to that effect. His duty was to front up, however hopelessly and face to face and man to man ask Joko to show mercy, quoting Shakespeare’s Portia if need be and see how he went.

Did he do enough? Of course he didn’t. The man who didn’t take the phone calls of the Lindt Cafe hostages ("The Prime Minister is too busy at this time"); the man who, when cancelling his own wedding, had his mother make the dread phone call to his weeping, pregnant bride, is not, in the end, all that brave an Aussie bloke, when it comes down to it; not all that courageous and valiant an Anzac. He is what some Australians call "piss weak".

And that should be, in due course, a big part of his epitaph.

4.55 am

A further thought.

This may be a big hinge moment in our politics, in our self-image. We have heard a call for mercy, mercy please, by a Government that locks up children for 90 years on Nauru and fails to investigate a clubbing to death on Manus of an Iranian architect who did nobody harm, and lets a young man almost starve himself to death, another young man burn himself to death, for want of a visa, a passport, a certificate of permission to work in this country. Mercy please for two drug dealers but not these people — they do not deserve our mercy, any of them.

Is this hypocrisy, this cruelty, this brazen breach of the Christian ethic and the Anzac spirit, an acceptable way of doing things any more?

I doubt it, I doubt it.

And we will see what we shall see.

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