Bali verdict stokes anger, racism among Australians

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2005, 12:00am

Australians reacted with fury yesterday to the 20-year prison sentence handed down to Queensland beauty therapist Schapelle Corby by a court in Bali.

Phone-in radio programmes were inundated by angry callers, travel agents vowed to stop selling holidays to Bali and many demanded a boycott of the Indonesian national airline, Garuda.

Some Australians called on the government to suspend its A$1 billion ($5.9 billion) aid package to Jakarta, and expressed regret that they had contributed money to the Indonesian victims of the December 26 tsunami.

'The decision is absolutely unfair,' one man told a talkback radio show, while a female caller said: 'She was not given a fair trial.'

Another man called the sentence 'disgusting ... they have no respect for Australians'.

Corby's ordeal, and the Bali court's perceived bias, revealed a seam of racism among some Australians. One radio host earlier referred to the judges as 'monkeys', who were 'straight out of the trees'.

'Give them a banana and away they go,' Malcolm Elliott told his 2GB radio audience in Sydney this month.

The public's fascination is almost unprecedented. Not since the trial of Lindy Chamberlain over claims that a dingo killed her baby in the desert 25 years ago has a criminal case gripped Australia like Corby's.

Crowds clustered around television screens in offices and shopping malls across the country as the judges delivered their two-hour judgment.

The major networks broadcast the proceedings live. Surveys show the vast majority of Australians - up to 90 per cent, according to some polls - believe Corby, 27, is innocent of smuggling 4.1kg of marijuana from Australia to Bali.

They are convinced the drugs were planted in her case by baggage handlers when her flight from Brisbane to Bali transited through Sydney last October.

Public opinion is so strong, the Indonesian embassy in Canberra was given extra security in case of violent protests.

Australians have identified strongly with the ordinariness of Corby, a former beauty therapy student from Queensland's Gold Coast who dropped out of her course to care for her sick father and work in a fish and chip shop.

Thousands of young Australians travel to Bali each year for sun, surf and cheap alcohol, and having a son or daughter mixed up with drugs is every parent's nightmare.