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Lives that become soap operas

By Lindsay Tanner - posted Tuesday, 10 January 2006

This has been the year of living dangerously for young Australians overseas. First Schapelle Corby, then the Bali Nine. Then Michelle Leslie and finally Tuong Van Nguyen.

The inevitable media circus inflated their stories into national soap operas, almost like real-life episodes of Law and Order. Sadly, once the story ends the circus moves on. Apart from a brief burst of publicity about a photograph, we’ve heard very little about Schapelle Corby recently.

Unfortunately, the day-to-day grind of serving a lengthy prison sentence isn’t very newsworthy. Van Nguyen also will fade from media attention fairly quickly.


The powerful emotions swirling around these cases have clouded a few realities. Other countries in our region have very different laws and judicial processes from ours. They don’t like giving special treatment to foreign offenders, particularly those from Western countries.

It isn’t that long ago that Singapore and Indonesia were colonies, with their people treated as second class citizens by Europeans. It’s hardly surprising that they resent being heavied by Australia about their punishment of convicted offenders.

The message from all these cases is very clear. Don’t expect Australian laws and judicial processes in other countries. In some situations, like Schapelle Corby and Van Nguyen, the punishment may be out of all proportion to the crime.

The fact that alleged offenders are Australian does not mean they are innocent, or entitled to lenient treatment. And no Australian government can easily change the outcomes of other countries’ judicial processes.

Some Australians find it hard to accept that other countries have a right to run their legal systems as they think fit.

I’ve received some pretty wacky emails about these cases. One bloke suggested that Australia should just send in the SAS and pull Schapelle out of there. Maybe we could get Sylvester Stallone to play the lead role in the ensuing war with Indonesia.


There is another Australian rotting away in a foreign prison, who has received far less public sympathy than Schapelle Corby. His name is David Hicks. He’s been locked up without trial for four years by the Americans and is going to be tried by a kangaroo court.

Hicks has some public support, but because he’s accused of associating with terrorists, the Howard Government has made little effort to defend his rights. Schapelle Corby and Van Nguyen weren’t treated fairly, but at least they got a trial.

David Hicks has been locked up for four years and has still not been tried. He could be a dangerous terrorist, but it’s now becoming clear that some innocent people have been wrongly caught up in the American crackdown on terrorist suspects. Some have even been tortured.

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First published in the Herald Sun on December 19, 2005.

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About the Author

Lindsay Tanner is Shadow Minister for Communications and Shadow Minister for Community Relationships and the Labor Member for Melbourne.

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