WHERE’S THE COMPASSION?

Each has traded in human misery.

But that’s about the only similarity between  drug smuggler Schapelle Corby in an Indonesian jail, and the people smugglers in Australian jails.

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Indonesia’s Justice Minister is trying to link their fates.

“So if it’s clear that we are paying attention to the plight of Corby, in reciprocity we hope there will be the same kind of attention there (in Australia),” Amir Syamsuddin said. “These are poor fishermen involved in people smuggling,” he continued.

Obviously, the Indonesian government is playing politics. But it highlights a compelling contrast.

Why does a wealthy Westerner who chose to bring drugs into a country with the death penalty (she received a 20-year sentence) deserve more compassion than an illiterate fisherman who was unaware of the consequences of his actions?

Not all people smugglers are innocents. But neither are they the bogeymen portrayed by politicians and a compliant commercial media.

Talkback and the tabloids make their money by appealing to our baser instincts. In order to do this, they generate fear. Emotions – not facts – are what move us.

This is why we hear the ringing of the bell each time a boat enters our waters; the incorrect use of the term ‘illegals’; and the race to the bottom to ‘get tough’ on asylum seekers.

Part of this was the Rudd government’s legislation for mandatory five-year jail terms for people smugglers.

It hasn’t worked. The boats keep coming.

Take the case of *Budi*, an uneducated 19-year-old offered 10 million Rupiah (about $A1000) to crew a boat to an unknown island. Now, he’s one of almost 500 Indonesians languishing in Australian jails, under laws that fail to differentiate between criminal masterminds and accidental players.

According to a report in The Age newspaper, judges describe the mandatory term as unnecessarily “harsh”, “severe”, and out of line with sentencing requirements in all jurisdictions.

A senate committee has recommended a review of the law, after evidence  it’s not acting as a deterrent. Yet it’s still supported by both major parties.

In a bitter irony, it may well be compounding the problem.

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