Executing Drug Dealers: Why Stop With The Bali Nine?


Earlier this morning two Australians were shot dead because they were convicted of drug trafficking. They broke Indonesian law. They suffered the consequences.

Australia outlawed the death penalty in 1967. Yet when a recent poll of Australians was conducted by radio-station Triple J, a large percentage of citizens supported this execution on foreign soil.

The pro-execution argument normally sounds something like this: “Well they knew it was illegal and they did it anyway and this is the punishment. They get no sympathy from me.”

You’ve probably heard a family member, friend or co-worker say something similar in regards to this story.

However, if some Australians truly believe that drug dealing, due to its damage to public health, is in any circumstances worthy of execution, then why does our lack of sympathy end with the Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran?

If these two deserved to die, then there is a long list of other drug traffickers, who, in the interest of fairness, should face the same fate. If we support the execution of small-time dealers like The Bali 9, then why not go after those truly crippling our society with drugs?

Lets begin with Australia’s alcohol barons. Alcohol kills 15 Australians and hospitalises another 430 EVERY day. According to the 2014 Vichealth and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s Alcohol’s Burden Of Disease In Australia report “the number of alcohol-attributed hospitalisations and deaths has increased by 62 per cent since the study was last undertaken a decade ago”. Alcohol is clearly a very dangerous drug. The people who make it are drug manufacturers. The people who sell it are drug dealers. Its legality makes it no less lethal.

Those dealing alcohol are making a killing too; the Australian booze industry is worth $10 billion a year. They sell the drug, we consume it, it causes disease and death and addiction and violence. As well as, like all recreational drugs, some good times too. Yet there are no consequences for these drug dealers whatsoever. Our laws encourage them to flourish. We refer to these dealers as ‘CEOs’ and celebrate them as ‘business leaders’. For some reason we do not see them as responsible for the horror their drug causes.

If you want to make an example of those who seek to profit from other people’s weakness and addiction, then surely alcohol dealers should be first against the wall (or the injection-table if you think that’s more humane).

Alcohol is killing more Australians than terrorism and domestic violence and road fatalities and heroin overdoses combined. It’s the worst drug, it’s just that the majority of people in our society happen to like it.

If Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran deserved to die last night, where does that leave your local chemists, doctors and pharmacists? The substances they sell us, we assume with the best intentions, still lead to over 300 deaths per year. The number of fatalities caused by prescription drugs is staggering when you consider that, on average, cocaine causes less than 30 deaths in Australia per year.

Is the difference here intention? Do we assume doctors don’t mean to kill people while cocaine dealers do? Consider this; the current street value of cocaine in Australia is approximately $300 per gram. Why would a professional supplier want that business relationship to end? Furthermore, if, as a cocaine dealer, your product causes deaths, the likelihood of you being investigated by police increases. Those are two very powerful motivations for a dealer to want his customers to live.

What consequence do doctors face when something goes wrong with medication? In the most famous recent case of malpractice, Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of killing his client ‘by administering a lethal dose of an anesthetic drug’. His punishment was two years served in jail.

There is a similarity between the causes of death attributed to both legal and illicit drugs; the issue is rarely the quality of the substance, but the dosage the user self-administers. Logically this should place both legal and illegal dealers at the same level of responsibility; they each sell their customer a substance that could kill them if inappropriate amounts are ingested. A person who has one too many lines of cocaine might induce a heart-attack, but a person who has one too many sleeping pills may never wake up. The implied contract here is: I’ll sell you the drug and tell you how much to take. Whatever happens after that is your responsibility.

Yet in the eyes of Australian law (and apparently the Australian public), a very different pattern emerges.

I sell you alcohol and you become an alcoholic; consumer is at fault and dealer is not responsible.

I sell you tobacco and you die from lung cancer; consumer is at fault and dealer is not responsible.

I sell you anti-depressants on which you overdose; consumer is at fault and dealer is not responsible.

I sell you an illegal drug; dealer is considered to be morally responsible for all resulting ill-effects on user/society and therefore can face jail or, if on foreign soil, the death penalty.

This is the justification as to why Andrew and Myuran Sukumaran were shot yesterday; because they were causing harm to a community by trafficking potentially dangerous substances.

It doesn’t matter that no one actually died from using their heroin as it was never sold or consumed – they were killed on principle. And apparently many of us feel the punishment they received, death by firing squad, fits the crime they committed. No sympathy.

Those making billions selling us alcohol, nicotine and Valium however can sleep easy at night. On very expensive mattresses. Because we like those drugs, and we just might be addicted.

Xannon Shirley, better known by his stage name The Tongue, is a musical artist from Sydney, a writer and a political activist.