The Trade-Off Behind Corby's Release


Schapelle Corby has had five years knocked off her sentence in what appears to be an understanding between the Australian and Indonesian governments for the return of Indonesian minors imprisoned as adults in our jails.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr has today denied the existence of a deal, saying "the decision to return youngsters who are in prison here was done because of the merit of that case."

But Indonesian Minister of State, Sudi Silalahi, claims to have negotiated with Australian officials.

"We have asked … their ministers to give the same consideration to our many citizens in Australia," Silalahi told reporters.

"They not only promised, we have already received some people," he said.

Earlier this month Attorney General Nicola Roxon ordered a review of 28 cases of convicted Indonesian people smugglers because of concerns about their age. A number of minors have already been sent back to Indonesia.

Of course, the humanitarian case for dealing with suspected minors involved in people smuggling seems to have been of little interest for the Federal Government until now. The case for the status quo has been built predominantly on a security argument with little regard for international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or community norms about sentencing minors.

A Senate committee inquiry on the matter released its report in April. A bill put forward by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young proposed significant changes to the way suspected minors are treated in Australian custody. The committee, comprised for the most part of members of the two major parties, recommended the bill not be passed. However, its report did support Hanson-Young’s call for the prosecution to bear the onus of proof when establishing age and a review of the AFP’s people smuggling procedures.

Indonesian minors such as 17-year-old Hadi Kurniawan remain in custody in Australia. The Human Rights Alliance, who have campaigned on Kurniawan and others’ behalf, provided an Indonesian Police Clearance and letters from his family that date his birth in 1995. Many Indonesians do not have birth certificates, relying on family cards and government registers for identification.

The documents procured by HRA were not effective in securing Kurniawan’s release, and the group has again called for his release in light of Corby’s sentence being cut. At least 22 but up to 60 children remain in adult prisons, according to the Human Rights Alliance.

In cases where there is doubt about an alleged people smuggler’s age, the AFP conducts x-rays of the wrist, a method called the Greulich-Pyle atlas, to determine age by measuring the level of skeletal development. The practice has been widely criticised as both inaccurate and unsuitable for determining the age of alleged minors. The Australian Human Rights Commission interviewed key medical experts in March this year, who recommended dental examinations as a more accurate method. Dr Anthony Hill writes:

"The atlas was never, ever designed, nor was the technology there, to base the hand-wrist X-ray on a chronological age assessment. It was never used for that. Therefore I think that in the use of the Greulich-Pyle as the sole arbiter of the chronological age of an individual — to use that as the primary source of information is technologically that’s being applied to a totally wrong format. It was never designed to do that."

If Corby’s clemency reduction is part of a deal, and the statements by Indonesian Minister of State Sudi Silalahi appear to contradict Australian assurances that it isn’t, then the question must be asked: Why Schapelle? She’s certainly not the only Australian in an Indonesian prison, nor is she facing the severest punishment.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the two members of the Bali Nine on death row, are awaiting their executions by firing squad. Both have appealed to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for clemency.

Although Asian law expert Professor Tim Lindsay has today said Corby’s reduction indicates Yudhoyono is prepared to show clemency towards drug smugglers where he was loathe to do so before, it is a frail hope — and little consolation for the family and friends of Van Nguyen, who was executed by hanging in 2005 for heroin trafficking.

New Matilda has, in relation to Chan and others, criticised the Labor government for its double standards when it comes to its treatment of Australians imprisoned on death row in Indonesia. In this new arrangement, where genuine reform at home has been shelved in favour of what appears to be a cynical deal, we cannot help but raise those concerns once again.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.