By Ross B. Taylor
Remarkably, the Schapelle Corby story was set to define not only the perceptions of Indonesia by many Australians, but also to define the bi-lateral relationship over an extended period as from late 2004 with both the Australian Prime minister and the Indonesia President becoming directly involved.
So why was this case, involving a young woman from Australia who had been charged with importing marijuana into Bali, propelled to become such a major issue both within Indonesia and Australia?
A combination of factors and timing combined to create the incredible interest in this case: Firstly, it needs to be remembered that in mid-2005 Australians were only just starting to feel confident about going back to their favorite paradise island, following the shocking terrorist attacks in Kuta Beach that occurred in 2002.
Then, suddenly in October 2004, a pretty young and blue-eyed girl from Australia is arrested at Bali's international airport on charges of illegally importing marijuana into Indonesia. For an Indonesian media who were only a few years into experiencing complete freedom-of-reporting after the dictatorship of President Suharto, there was a fascination with this story; a story that they were now free to tell.
The Corby family and friends added 'fuel-to-the-fire' with an hysterical and angry response to Corby's arrest. High emotion and anger is something quite foreign to most Indonesians where respect and quiet-conduct is the norm, and suddenly an Australian family and friends of an alleged drug smuggler were making news headlines throughout the archipelago with images of this young and pretty Aussie girl and her family being beamed into Indonesia homes.
The issue then became a political one, with our then prime minister John Howard making direct contact with Indonesia's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyano (SBY) seeking his intervention; another curious request given that Australia had spent considerable time and funding to teach a post-Suharto Indonesia about the importance of the 'separation of powers' whereby it was highly improper - or illegal - for political leaders to seek to influence either the police or the judiciary.
The extremely high profile nature of this case almost certainly created an environment whereby even if SBY had felt he could 'assist' in Australia's request, he could not afford to be seen domestically as being weak or 'kowtowing' to Indonesia's large neighbour to the south.
Corby has served some 12 years of her sentence and it must be said her time spent in Kerobokan prison appears a far more severe penalty that terms handed out subsequently to Indonesian nationals for far worse crimes, including premeditated and brutal murder.
We will never know if Corby's family and her extensive and erratic support group ("Women for Schapelle") assisted her in maintaining her innocence, or they actually actually hardened a highly pressured Indonesian police and judiciary in dealing with this case.
What we do no know though, is that as Schapelle Corby settles back into Australian-life, Indonesian authorities will sigh in relief that she has gone, whilst almost certainly, the Australian media will be seeking opportunities to cover the next chapter of this enduring and, in many respects, tragic story.
Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the WA-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)
Saturday 27th May 2017