Relations between Australia and Indonesia have hit a bit of a rough patch just recently due to revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that one of our intelligence agencies has been bugging the phones of the Indonesian president, his wife and various top aides and ministers. This has come as a huge relief to the internal auditors of the Australian Signals Directorate who now at least know where their budget went. The Indonesians have proved to be a little less sanguine. It is fair to say they are somewhat ticked.
In amongst all of the coverage of bugging, Indonesian outrage, politcal fallout and how dreadful our new prime minister is (the bugging took place while Kevin Rudd was prime minister but, whatever) there was one article which wondered what sort of effect this might have on Schapelle Corby. To which I can only say, who cares?
For non Australians and aliens from another planet this is the story with Schapelle Corby. She was a young Australian woman who went on holiday to Bali. It didn't go very well because as she was going through customs one of the officials noticed she was carrying about two hundred tonnes of marijuana in her luggage. Arrest followed, Indonesian customs officials are reasonably easy going but they probably thought Schapelle was taking the piss. This led to three rather interesting questions. Firstly; who smuggles dope into Bali. Secondly; who gets arrested by Indonesian customs? And thirdly who stays arrested by Indonesian customs? My personal opinion is that the Indonesian customs officials simply couldn't believe what was going on and assumed it was a sting operation to test their integrity.
After the arrest there was the trial, the sentencing, the teary pleas of innocence and finally incarceration. Throughout all this Schapelle, for reasons which escape me, seemed to become a bit of a cause celebre for parts of the Australian media. Every night there was something new on Schapelle and how she was doing and how she was bravely holding up and on and on. Subsequently there has been a renewed flurry of interest every time it looks like she might appeal or gain clemency or a prisoner swap or start a lifestyle website.
That was years ago though and for the intervening period Schapelle has been happily banged up in either Kerobokan prison or the penthouse suite of the Djakarta Hyatt (the Indonesian justice system is a little difficult to work out sometimes). Now, however just as she is hoping for parole this entire phone bugging scandal has come to light and things look grim for her. So what?
The phone bugging scandal is one of those outrages which is no less real for being confected. Everybody spies on everybody else and everybody knows they're doing so even if the details are sometimes sketchy. Nevertheless with a nation full of voters furious at the intrusion (Indonesians go to the polls this year) no sane Indonesian politician can be seen to be taking a relaxed attitude to this. So there is outrage, diplomatic tension, downgrading of ties and the possibility that young drug smugglers might want to take their holidays in Malaysia for the next few years. Oh yes and the distinct likelihood that Indonesian authorities will stop doing whatever little it is they have been currently doing to prevent people smugglers travelling to Australia.
The most irritating bit about all of this is that it isn't our fault. I mean, ok we did the spying part but the Indonesians didn't find out because of anything we did but rather due to the American predilection for hiring socially challenged, mentally unstable people to work in their intelligence services. This might seem rather silly but actually it is quite understandable. Espionage is essentially violating other peoples privacy, building up trust for the sole purpose of betraying and engaging in ongoing and enthusiastic deceit. Ok we can say its all in a good cause but seriously does it sound like a job that would be taken by a well adjusted human being? I personally think that should be part of the psychological examination on entrance.
"Do you want to work in the intelligence services?"
"Sorry, you fail."
Still the Indonesian revelations are spilled milk now and we have to do what we can to mop it up. We are helped by the fact that the Indonesians want this to go away as much as we do, they just need something they can show their people so it looks like they're standing up to the imperialist lackey (that's us). Here is where Schapelle Corby can do something useful to help her country. All she has to do is publicly state that she was the one bugging the Indonesian president's phone in the hopes of learning about her parole. The Indonesians can tsk tsk vigorously, remove her hair dressing privileges and our prime minister can offer a harmless apology for the actions of one of our private citizens. That should be quite sufficient, at least until Edward Snowden tells everybody what else we've been up to.