Help me Kevin 747. You’re my only hope!
There is something enticing about the idea of life in the foreign service, with the promise of exotic travel, dealings and double-dealings with diplomats from the dodgiest regimes, cocktails on the lawn at lavish ambassadorial residences.
We have been reminded this week, however, that a very large part of the role of the foreign service is to lend a helping hand to ratbags who get themselves into strife overseas, and believe that it’s the job of the Government to get them out of trouble.
You would imagine that any Australian diplomat posted to a place such as Phuket would spend most of their time arranging ambulances for guys called Wazza who ploughed their Vespa into the back of a tuktuk after 14 bottles of Singha, safe in the knowledge that our Government can save them from their own stupidity.
One of the best columns of the past few years was written by the former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer when he hilariously dismantled the mindset of the so-called “Beer Mat Mum”, Annice Smoel, who was accused of swiping a beer mat from a bar in Thailand and immediately demanded that the Australian Government do something about it.
Downer provided the following reflections on his arrival in the foreign affairs portfolio in 1996 and the responsibilities it entailed:
“After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was ‘responsible’ for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.
“No, no, no, don’t get it wrong - drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren’t responsible for their own stupidity - I was.
“It’s about time that great nanny in Canberra, the Federal Government, turned around and told people they are responsible for their own decisions.”
This might sound harsh in the case of the youth, 14, who has been arrested in Bali on charges of possessing a tiny amount of cannabis, just $28 worth, which he says he bought in some act of muddle-headed kindness from a man who said he didn’t have money.
Just to be clear, I think that it is ridiculous and harsh that this young man faces the prospect of jail time for such a small offence, especially in a prison which is home to the worst class of criminals, and I hope that the Indonesians let him go.
But I do wonder what was going through his mind and, particularly, the mind of his parents in allowing him to behave in such an extraordinarily foolish manner in a country where, on arrival, you are greeted with massive yellow billboards alerting you to the fact that the death penalty applies for drug offences, and featuring photos of people who have been executed for their crimes, just to hammer the point home.
There should not be a person in Australia who isn’t aware that the Indonesians take an extremely dim view of drug offences. Unless you have been living under a rock you should be familiar with the cases of Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine, and aware that buying even the smallest amount of drugs in a place such as Bali is one of the dumbest things a person can do. A 14-year-old should know these things; if he doesn’t, it is the job of his parents to tell him, especially before heading off on an Indonesian holiday.
Kevin Rudd has taken up the cudgels for this boy and his family, which is fair enough. He could probably have spared us the unnecessary and patronising theatrics of stating that he’s instructed our consular staff in Bali that the release of the boy must be their “top priority”.
You could be pretty sure that it was already their top priority, and that they were not sunning themselves on the beach at Sanur when news of the boy’s arrest broke.
Rudd’s determination to immerse himself so dramatically into the issue probably said more about his domestic political ambitions than the diplomatic handling of the case, where he gets to remind us all that he’s the people’s choice to lead the ALP.
Rudd has been very generous in his assessment of what the boy’s parents must be going through.
“I think if you put yourself in the position of being a mum or a dad with a 14-year-old who’s got themselves caught up in this situation, your heart would go out to the parents,” he said on Thursday night. Of course it would.
But for many of us this compassionate assessment comes with a totally valid qualifier as to how they all got themselves into this pretty ludicrous scrape in the first place.
We may also wonder why it is that, from the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister down, the Government is fixated on this issue, when the diplomats would have already been working diligently and professionally to resolve it anyway, in keeping with their role of protecting Australian travellers from their own foolishness.
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