Yesterday, young Australian man Myuran Sukumaran received news that he will almost certainly be shot dead by an Indonesian firing squad.

The Bali Nine member was sentenced to death in 2005 for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. He has exhausted all appeals and his life is now in the hands of Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop.

If you think Australian officials have no power to influence the Indonesian justice system, think again — and Australians should be appalled at the conduct of successive prime and foreign ministers on this case.

Indeed, it was the Australian Federal Police who tipped off its Indonesian counterparts about the Bali Nine’s activities. It was the AFP again — specifically former AFP chief Mick Keelty, undoubtedly with a heavy conscience — who stepped in to convince an Indonesian court to commute Bali Nine member Scott Rush’s sentence from death to life in prison in 2011.

And then there’s Australia’s role in Schapelle Corby’s release. When Corby’s sentence was cut by five years in 2012, Indonesian officials embarrassed then-foreign minister Bob Carr by announcing the decision was part of a reciprocal arrangement with Australia — a deal had been cut to release young Indonesians being held in our prisons for crewing asylum seeker boats in return for Corby’s early release, they said. Carr vehemently denied it.

So what’s the difference between Rush and Corby, on the one hand, and Sukumaran and fellow Bali Nine member Andrew Chan (also on death row), or indeed Van Nguyen — a young Australian who was hanged in Singapore on John Howard’s watch — on the other?

One clear difference is skin colour, which has undoubtedly affected the kind of media coverage they’ve received in Australia. Successive Australian leaders also appear to think the lives of these young non-Anglo men are more dispensable than white ones.

The Howard government was utterly gutless in the case of Van Nguyen. As Nguyen faced his last days alive, our fearless foreign minister Alexander Downer sat on his hands, telling media the young man would need a “miracle” to save him now.

Sukumaran and Chan don’t need a miracle. They need their government to advocate forcefully on their behalf. The time is now.

Peter Fray

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