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Maithripala Sirisena’s surprise election as Sri Lankan President on January 8 has paved theway for a significant departure fromthe policies of his predecessor, MahindaRajapaksa. In acknowledgement of the support of members of disaffected minority groups, including Tamils in the north, Sirisena has undertaken to write downfarmers’ debt, increase the health and education budget, and fight corruption.

Fifty or so political appointees to Sri Lankan diplomat posts have been recalled, including the High Commissioner toAustralia,Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe. And this month, the newgovernment blocked a bid by James Packer to build a casino in the heart of Colombo,which had been approved by the old regime, with millions of dollars in tax breaks for Packer’s company, Crown Resorts.

The election result should drive a fundamental rethink byAustralia towards its future relationship with Sri Lanka. Before the election, itwas predicated solely on the basis of stopping Tamil asylum seekers coming toAustralia by boat. Itwas foreign policy at its worst; a crude and undignified domestic power play thatwas never likely to be embraced by the new President.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, still not learning fromhis mistakes, rang towelcome the result and then proceeded to reiterate that stopping boatswould be front and centre of the relationship; itwas inappropriate and inept. Last year, Australia handed over two patrol boats and acquiesced to demands for funding to assist Sri Lankan authorities stop the boats. Itwould be embarrassingwere Australia to be caught in the foreshadowed inquiries into corruption alleged to have occurred on Rajapaksa’swatch. Itwas poor judgment and ill-conceived selfinterest that droveAustralia’s relations with such a rotten and discredited regime.

As Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop did better, a lot better. She pledgedAustralian support for the newPresident in hismoves to implement democratic reform and counter corruption. It has left her room to argue the case for ending the oppressive military occupation of Tamil areas in the north,which has done so much to force Tamils to flee the country on boats. It is this, and not turning back boats by force, that will see an end of the need for Tamils to flee statesponsored persecution. Arguing the case has urgency because Sirisena has so far maintained the policy of his predecessor of prosecuting Tamil asylum seekers intercepted on the high seas byAustralia and illegally returned to Sri Lanka. The latest transgression occurred in mid- February.

As Bishop has indicated, it is in Australia’s interests to foster and support Sri Lanka as itmoves to implement democratic reform. Australia has the capacity and influence to do it.Not only will that play into our domestic agenda of obviating the need for Tamils to leave, but also enable closer dialogue and co-operation among Australia, Sri Lanka and India on balancing Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean. On the strength of considerable financial inducements, theRajapaksa regime allowed undue Chinese influence over government and a growing presence within the country. Sirisena cites this as amajor factor in inducing him to stand for the presidency. Sirisena has ruled out an international investigation into the massacre of Tamil civilians at the end of the civilwar in 2009 and opted instead for a domestic inquiry. Once she has put the relationship on firm footing, Bishop might lobby for aUnitedNations-sponsored investigation.

At the request of theRajapaksa regime, more than 50 Tamils are detained inAustralia as a ‘‘threat to security’’, even though they have been found to be refugees. Their incarceration,whichwould otherwise be illegal, ismade possible by deploying secret provisions of the ASIOAct. TheAustralian government agreed to keep them in indefinite detention as part of a deal to stop the boats. They should be immediately released. They have done nothing wrong; theywere hostages to theRajapaksa regime’s paranoia.

An opportunity has been created for Bishop to undertake important regional diplomacy; it should be grasped and used productively. Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat whoserved in Sri Lanka. Hewas also amember of the Refugee Review Tribunal.

AndrewChan and Myuran Sukumaran are shining examples of prison rehabilitation and should be displayed with pride by the Indonesian government, not shot down in history, write Dr Clarke Jones and James Giggacher

Leaders of the Bali nine drug smuggling ring, AndrewChan and Myuran Sukumaran, will soon be transferred fromKerokoban prison. It is the first step in their last walk to the firing squad.

The two are nowmore than likely to be taken out to a field on Nusakambangan, a prison island off central Java, and shot dead. Butwhile there has been a delay to themove, there is no stay of execution. Like manyAustralians, we think that stay should come. And it’s not just becausewe are opposed to the death penalty. It’s because ofwhat the two reformed prisoners can do in Indonesia’swar on drugs if kept alive, and thewasted opportunity their execution will represent. Besides the horror of the death penalty, there is so much unnecessary tragedy in this case.

Some of it rests on the shoulders of theAustralian Federal Police who, possibly in letting decisions to strengthen their relationship with Indonesian counterparts cloud their judgment, clearly could have prevented this pending tragedy. There is of course a dangerous and ignorant mood among theAustralian public that the two men deserve what’s coming – they’vemade their beds, inwhich they should nowforever lie.

Alot of it also rests with Indonesia president Joko ‘‘Jokowi’’ Widodo,whose cruel lack of compromise and desire to clear out the prisons has seen him categorically turn downany chance of clemency – even though this potentially flouts Indonesian law. Jokowi has a policy of denying clemency for all drug offenders.

Indonesian legal teams are now scrambling a submission to the administrative court, arguing that the president can’t deny clemency based on sweeping policy, but must consider each case individually. His hardline stance isn’t just about trying to win some breathing space with an electorate inwhich the vastmajority is disappointed with his presidency.Hemay be also trying to distract them fromongoing corruption scandals, the persistence of cronyism and his inability to break free fromthe shackles of his political benefactor Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Most significantly, though, the president has announced awar on drugs,which he sees as decimating the nation.The drug ‘‘crisis’’ is described by Jokowi as a ‘‘national emergency’’.

According to him, 4.5 million Indonesians need to be rehabilitated fromillicit or illegal drug use, and 40 to 50 young people die from drugs each day. This data has shownto be dodgy. Even so, it tempers much of Jokowi’s thinking on the need for rehabilitation. And here’swhere another perspective on rehabilitation comes in. In Chan and Sukumaran, the president not only has clear examples of rehabilitation, but effective tools for combating the scourge of drug smuggling in his own country and rehabilitating those citizens most in need.

This is in part because of the characteristics and qualities of the Indonesian prison system. Let’s just say that the twowere, with the rest of the Bali nine, allowed to board flights forAustralia and nabbed by theAFPinstead of Indonesia’sNational Police. Serving up to 10 years in anAustralian prison,would they have been reformed? With a recidivism rate of more than 50 per cent and the sterile security conditions that commonly lead to psychological distress and not change, probably not.That might lead one to assume that something about their time in Kerobokan prison contributed to their reformation, something they would more than likely not have experienced here inAustralia. What can be learnt fromthis hypothesis? Chan and Sukumaran’s experiences showgenuine signs of rehabilitation. So howcould this rehabilitation occur in Kerobokan prison,which is claimed to be a ‘‘hell hole’’? By default and not by design, prisons like Kerobokan share many positive aspects that are often overlooked by contemporary prison reformists.

As Indonesian corrections don’t have the resources to care or provide for inmates, the inmates take it upon themselves to fund and run their own rehabilitation programs. There is also more buy in from NGOswho also support the inmate programs and the amazing support structures that are created by inmates in prisons in developing countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.

These include their own businesses to support themselves and their families,which keep them occupied and sometimes away from criminal pursuits. In the end, in some cases, the prison community becomes a natural environment for rehabilitation.Astudy on recidivism in Indonesiamay paint a more accurate picture as precise figures are hard to come by.

Of course, corruption, criminality and drug running remain very real issues. Chan and Sukumaran demonstrate a clear sense of remorse and with it the chance of redemption. If rehabilitated returning fighters can be used to help dissuade other young men from making the same mistake,why can’t convicted and remorseful drug smugglers do the same? Beyond howunpalatable the notionmay be to many, this is yet another reason it is a real shame the two will be executed: here are clear examples of successful rehabilitation that should be held high with pride by the Indonesian government, not shot downin history. Instead, their execution could potentially dampen other inmates’ enthusiasm to reform or change in Indonesia. In all prisons, hope is critical for moral and rehabilitation, especially in under-resourced prisonswhere conditions are harsh.

In this case, as with many more, the death penalty is no silver bullet solution, and in fact hits terribly wide of the mark. There is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty has any real deterrence value.

One thing is for certain, if Chan and Sukumaran are executed, other drug offenders will be deterred fromrehabilitation.These two men,whomade one terrible, foolish mistakewhile young, offer a glimpse on howJokowi’swar on drugs can bewon without having to lose more lives . . . and without having to fire a single shot.

Dr Clarke Jones is a researcher on prison radicalisation and reform, and JamesGiggacher is Asia-Pacific editor at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

In considering a response that might have teeth it needs to be asked what is the most important aspect of the relationship. The cattle trade, students?

In truth there is not a lot Australia can do to cause Indonesia pain over the executions. There is little of importance in the relationship and that is a terrible condemnation of successive Australian governments. Both Labor and Liberal governments have thrown away leverage over stopping the boats, particularly Abbott and Morrison.

At the level of government in Indonesia there is little respect for Australia and the way it conducts itself, toward Indonesia, other Muslim countries and refugees. Australia is perceived as selfish, immature and racist.

Australia has demonstrated little understanding of the social, cultural and political complexities that are interwoven throughout the archipelago. Calling for a boycott of Bali falls into the category of immature.

Australia might withdraw its Ambassador and ask the Indonesians to do the same. It might restrict Indonesian travel to Australia, but such a move would be reciprocated. It could restrict Indonesian flights into Australian but again that would engender reciprocity.

One thing Australia might consider is to cease all contact and training with the Indonesian police and military for two years.