25 January 2010
Prisoner Transfer Agreements -- Australia and Indonesia...
The purpose of a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) is to allow foreign nationals incarcerated overseas to serve out the remaining portion of their sentence in their home countries. A PTA between Australia and Indonesia is something that has been in the pipeline for a while. If you are an Australian or an Indonesian incarcerated in a foreign prison, then that pipeline has been very long to date, and would seem to be a little longer still before there is any light at the end of this pipeline.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marty Natalegawa, has admitted as much. Natalegawa is a talented young diplomat who in a rapidly rising career leading to his appointment as FM held key ambassadorial posts in the UK and at the UN. He is a very intelligent man who is economical in his choice of words and rarely misspeaks. So, when he speaks it is probably worth paying attention to.
So, when Natalegawa said to the Australian Associated Press (AAP) that the negotiations for a PTA had not stalled, but rather taking time as a consequence of Indonesia being new to the PTA game, then that is where the game is at. The PTA will impact on the lives of those prisoners who have not been sentenced to death in an Indonesian court. Unfortunately, for those Australians on death row there is zero chance of them being repatriated to Australia to serve out the remainder of their respective sentences and executed.
However, a PTA will potentially permit the likes of Schapelle Corby and Renae Lawrence to be returned to Australia to serve out the remainder of their custodial sentences in an Australian prison.
The devil is in the detail of a PTA. And, this is where negotiations have slowed to a trickle in the very long pipeline that Natalegawa has alluded to. For example, Indonesia has taken a very strong public international stance on drugs and drug smuggling. Therefore, there are quarters within the Indonesian community that are reluctant to include drug smugglers on the list of prisoners who can be returned under a PTA. There is a fear that Australia does not deal with drugs as harshly as they do in Indonesia. And, they are right, we do not execute people period. That fear is that Corby and Lawrence would be returned to Australia under a PTA and then released shortly after their return.
The details are likely to include specific conditions on how much time is to be served in Australia prior to a release. The difficulty here is that Indonesia works on a remission system where prisoners sentences are cut each year, sometimes twice a year, on religious / national holidays for good behaviour. In contrast, the Australian system works on a head sentence and a non-parole period. Ultimately, the same amount of time will conceivably be served under both situations but these are the sorts of details that need to be hammered out before an agreement can be reached.
Another critical issue still to be agreed is how much time prisoners will be required to serve before becoming eligible for a PTA return to their home country. There have been suggestions that Australians serving time in Indonesian jails will have to do almost 3/4 of their sentence before becoming eligible. However, this is unlikely, assuming those on the Australian side of the debate are knowledgeable and well-informed on the Indonesian system. A person convicted in Indonesia is likely to only do 3/4 of their original sentence, and in all likelihood less than 3/4, with remissions for good behaviour and the like.
The classic example here is none other than the son of the former president (dictator), Tommy Soeharto. Tommy was convicted of a little graft and then the subsequent premeditated murder for hire of a Supreme Court justice. The man ended up doing about 2/3 of his original sentence.
So, in that regard a PTA might not make a lot make a lot of sense for most Australians incarcerated in Indonesia. It is also unlikely that the 3/4 of the sentence demand will be met.
It would seem that a PTA will become a reality in the future, but how far into the future remains to be seen.