A message from Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven.
Being around death is much like attending a function with an open bar. People behave either very well, or very badly.
Never was this clearer than with the awful deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. We saw ourselves at our best, and worst.
My most uplifting memory was of celebrated Australian artist Ben Quilty gently reading received letters to Sukumaran. My worst was him reading Sukumaran a letter not only wishing his death, but a slow and painful death.
This dialogue of death has continued around my own university’s creation of two scholarships remembering the reformation and brave death of these two men.
Some correspondents said the scholarships made them weep with joy. Another gloated over the elimination of the “chokko” and the “chink”. Many questioned the decision to “name” scholarships “for drug runners”.
On this last point, let’s be quite clear. The scholarships will commemorate the two men, but the university never proposed they be named after them. In fact, they will be called the Mercy Scholarships, after the quality so desperately denied Chan and Sukumaran.
And these are not scholarships in memory of men who once were drug runners. They commemorate men who died reformed, redeemed, courageously and uncompromisingly human. I hope I die with such grace.
The outpouring of hate over the scholarships has surprised me. But I should have expected it. Just as we have the leftist phenomenon of “conspicuous compassion” — e-empathy — the Bali Two elicited a corresponding “conspicuous condemnation”.
Doubtless, its practitioners thought with the two victims blown away, the debate was successfully over. I appreciate their horror at realising it will continue until the corruption and illegality around these deaths is fully exposed, and Indonesia itself abandons judicial murder.
It will be lonely, then, standing over these two corpses.
Unsurprisingly, the argument that “scholarships should not commemorate drug runners” is both facile and dishonest.
Yes, Chan and Sukumaran once were drug criminals. But the scholarships commemorate what came after: profound reform; constant help to others; bravery and dignity facing death.
Are we really so pitilessly stupid as to believe that a person who commits a crime never is worthy of recognition for a subsequent virtuous act? That, for example, a murderer who bravely rescues a child remains merely a murderer?
In what was admittedly a glancing response to an unanticipated question, Tony Abbott seemed to stumble down this barren track. One might expect more from a genuinely good man who often asks us to accept he has changed or improved.
The other cry from the post-mortem lynch mob is “sovereignty”. How can any university dare award scholarships commemorating men duly executed under Indonesian law?
One answer is that universities dare tell the truth. The actions leading to these men’s deaths were shabby, partial, cruel and indecent. These scholarships merely reflect the ugly features of political expediency.
The second is that whatever was involved here, it was not sovereignty. Sovereignty by definition is exercised according to law. These deaths were inflicted through an impugned process and without adherence to Indonesia’s own judicial requirements.
As such, they were not the sovereign acts of the Indonesian state, let alone the Indonesian people. They were the exercise of naked power by the Indonesian executive, and are to be judged — and one day very formally will be judged — as such.
Which leaves us with a conundrum, and brings us back to the scholarships.
We are faced by a vastly important neighbour that kills our citizens otherwise than in accordance with law. That humiliates their families and takes every appearance of pleasure in humiliating us as a nation.
We cannot live without them, but how do we live with them while maintaining our national dignity and asserting the humanity of those whose lives have been expended in some cruel game of political chess?
It seems we can best do this by asserting two fundamental virtues, the tension between which alone can bring integrity to our situation.
The first is truth. Past crimes and present virtues all acknowledged, Chan and Sukumaran did not deserve to be shot like dogs. These scholarships assert that truth, uncompromisingly and beyond misunderstanding.
The second is love. While this tragedy reeks of rancour towards Australia, we must show Indonesia that however much we reject its decision, we respond to it in commitment and compassion. In this case, we receive bullets but return scholarships.
And so in death, as in the last years of their lives, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will be instruments of peace and reconciliation. Not dead drug runners.