PRIME MINISTER - Howard file.3

27 May 2005 

Subjects: Schapelle Corby verdict. 
In recent months there has been unprecedented interest in Schapelle Corby. And now that the guilty verdict has been handed down by the Indonesian court and Ms Corby has been sentenced to a jail term of 20 years, there will be deep feelings in the Australian community. I recognise that. I say at the outset that guilty or innocent I feel for this young woman. If she is guilty I feel for her that a tragic mistake, a tragic act has done so much damage to her young life. If she is innocent of course my feeling for her is redoubled. 

But it is not for me to make a judgment and it is not for my fellow Australians, however strongly they feel to make a judgment. She was subject to the justice system of another country and whenever Australians travel overseas it must be understood that they are subject to the justice systems of the countries they visit and we have neither the power nor the right to intervene at a government level in the way in which those justice systems operate. I am sure that if a foreigner were on trial in this country and the prime minister or president of that person’s country sought to intervene in our court system we would rightfully resent it. 

But as the father of young adult children, I know that many other mothers and fathers around Australia will of course feel the vulnerability that was felt by the family of this girl and the fact that we are a nation whose young travel so much, it is an issue that has touched this country very directly. But it remains the case that after hearing the evidence the court has found her guilty and the appropriate thing for the Australian Government to do is to continue what it has already done and that is to provide whatever assistance we can properly provide to the defence team. Mr Downer has already indicated that financial help has already been provided. He’s indicated today that two eminent Queen’s Council on a pro bono basis would be available to help with any appeal that Ms Corby’s team might wish to make. That ultimately is a matter for her. The Foreign Minister is ready to talk to her lawyers if they wish to do so, as he has done in the past. He’s announced that a negotiating team will be going to Jakarta on the 6th of June to continue the discussions about a generic prisoner exchange agreement between Australia and Indonesia. He has said something about that and I refer you to his remarks. 

But I want conclude by saying that I understand the strength of feeling in Australia. I understand the interest that this case has aroused amongst my fellow Australians – it’s an interest that we all share. But I do ask that we all pause and understand the situation, and recognise and respect that when we visit other countries we are subject to the laws and the rules of those countries, just as when people visit our shores they are subject to our laws and to our rules. That is the only basis on which we can live our lives in a world in which people travel so much. I can assure my fellow Australians that whatever additional assistance can appropriately be provided, will be, but at the end of the day we must, and the Government will, respect the processes of the justice system of other countries. 


Prime Minister, in discussing feelings and sympathies if she’s guilty or if she’s innocent, are you not implicitly allowing the possibility that Schapelle Corby has been convicted in error? 


No, I’m not. I don’t know. Let me make it clear. I have no alternative, and I will not seek any alternative other than to accept the decision of the court. I didn’t hear the evidence, and at no stage have I expressed a view because I am in no position to do so, and I think it is quite wrong of me in my position to express a view either way. The point I was making was to express a normal human emotion that, whatever the merits of the case, I feel for the girl and I feel for her family. That’s what I was saying, and I repeat it. 

Thank you.