death penalty, confirmed yesterday, for two of the Bali Nine drug runners presents
Prime Minister John Howard with the next difficulty for
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. The Bali High Court
ruling that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran should face the firing squad will
no doubt be followed by further legal challenges, but it looks likely that only
the intervention of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono can save the
two lives.

politics of this issue will be complex for Mr Howard. He will wish to avoid
further upsetting the Indonesians by protesting too loudly about the death
penalty. Our Prime Minister has, after all, politely defended providing asylum for 42
West Papuans on the basis that doing so was required under
Australian law. President Yudhoyono might well retort that, just as Indonesians
were asked by Australia to respect Australian law, so too should Australians
respect that under Indonesian law drug traffickers get shot.

Howard will be under considerable pressure within Australia not to
accept that argument. The very same church leaders who have been leading the
protest against amending the immigration processes in an effort to avoid the
arrival of more West Papuans will be fulminating from their pulpits against the
death penalty. The protest apparatus, created before Singapore hanged an Australian,
will be reactivated and angry crowds demonstrating outside the Indonesian
Embassy in Canberra are easy to imagine. It all will get very ugly.

For Mr
Howard, it is a real “between a rock and a hard place” situation. HIs only saving
grace is that a majority of Australians probably support Chan and
Sukumaran being executed.