AUSTRALIA and Indonesia suddenly have moved closer to a prisoner-exchange deal, which is expected to be signed in Bali today.
Details of the agreement have not been settled but if the deal takes the likely course it will mean convicted drug carriers Schapelle Corby and members of the Bali Nine could be given the chance to complete their sentences in Australia.
Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin revealed late yesterday he planned to finalise arrangements for the treaty when he meets Attorney-General Philip Ruddock in Bali today. The plan is to sign the agreement in September.
Revelations a prisoner-exchange treaty between Australia and its near neighbour is close to reality will come as good news to at least some of the Australians in Bali's Kerobokan jail.
It comes as a surprise to many who believed such a treaty was years away, especially after relations between the countries chilled in the wake of the Papuan asylum-seekers row.
Some Indonesian officials and lawmakers have suggested, in the past few months, that prisoner-exchange was off the table until the asylum issue had been properly resolved.
Dr Awaluddin told a press conference, on the sidelines of a two-day joint ministerial meeting in Bali, the countries now had ironed out any "major differences" on the issue.
"We do not have any differences between me as Minister of Justice of Indonesia and Attorney-General of Australia," Dr Awaluddin said.
"I hope tomorrow (Thursday) we will finalise this talk when I meet the Attorney-General and if we reach that agreement tomorrow I expect when I visit Australia in September we can sign bilateral agreement."
Dr Awaluddin said the agreement was now "substantively" arranged. However, he did not give details of how much of their sentences Australian prisoners would need to serve in Indonesia before they would qualify to go home to a prison in their own state.
The issue was reinvigorated after former beauty student Schapelle Corby was sentenced to 20 years' jail for marijuana smuggling. At this time it was suggested prisoners would first need to serve about half of their sentence in Indonesia, similar to an agreement between Australia and Thailand. Uncertainty remains for those jailed for life, given that not all states of Australia have truth in sentencing when it comes to life terms.
However, the two Bali Nine ringleaders, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who received the death penalty, may not benefit from the scheme.
Ten Australians are in Bali's jail. Aside from Corby, Chan and Sukumaran, five other members of the Bali Nine are serving 20-year jail terms and two have had their life sentences confirmed by the High Court. While the announcement will be good news to some of these, others have previously said they would rather serve their jail terms in Bali.
This is because money in an Indonesian jail can buy prisoners many privileges which are strictly banned in Australian jails and early remissions here can slash years from sentences.
Dr Awaluddin sidestepped the question of when three of the 2002 Bali bombers, all on death row, will be executed, saying it was a matter for the country's Attorney-General. However, he confirmed Balinese prosecutors had two weeks ago requested that the trio face the firing squad at the Nusa Kambangan island prison where they are held rather than be returned to Bali for the execution.
But the bombers' lawyers have put the brakes on any plans for imminent firing squad action, saying the trio will seek to lodge further applications for judicial reviews of their cases.