14 Jun 2015

Smuggling payment questions still unanswered

8:54 pm on 14 June 2015

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is refusing to bow to pressure from Indonesia to clarify whether people smugglers were paid to turn back boats full of asylum seekers.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, who were seeking asylum in New Zealand.

Members of the group of 65 asylum seekers Photo: Supplied

Indonesia launched its own investigation into the claims made by asylum seekers on the boat and its foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said she asked Australia's ambassador in Jakarta about the matter.

The captain and crew of a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers were allegedly given $5000 dollars each to return to Indonesian waters.

The ABC reports that Mr Abbott today again dodged questions on the claims, after refusing to confirm or deny the allegations last week.

"There's really only one thing to say here and that is that we have stopped the boats," he said.

"That's good for Australia, it's good for Indonesia and it's particularly good for all of those who want to see a better world."

His comments came as Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles warned the allegations were affecting diplomatic relations with the country.

Mr Marles joined Indonesia in asking for answers from the Government over the claims, saying he "would have thought it was a clear matter to deny the proposition that we would not be paying people smugglers".

Minister now refuses to comment

Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton is now refusing to comment on the claims.

Last week Mr Dutton strenously denied the claims, but now is not commenting, reports the ABC.

"The Government will always do the right thing by the Australian people, we will act within the law, we will act within our international obligations but from day one we have not commented on specific operations, we provide details at a time which is operationally appropriate."

But the Australian Green Party says its sources in Indonesia have confirmed the Australian government is paying people smugglers to stop boats of asylum seekers.

James Lynch, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) said passengers saw smugglers being paid after the boat was intercepted.

The new Australian Green Party leader, Richard Di Natale, told the Sunday Morning programme his party had confirmation payments had been made.

"It's now emerged that we've been paying people smugglers - effectively bringing Australia into the people smuggling business to turn boats around.

"And all for very very small numbers of people who arrive in Australia by boat...the numbers are tiny when you look at the total immigration programme."

If Australians were aware of what was going on they would be appalled and that was the reason for the secrecy, he said.

Richard Di Natale

Richard Di Natale Photo: AFP

Immigrants had made an enormous contribution to Australia and Australia had a moral responsibility to "settle these people", he said.

The Australian Greens will try on Monday to win Senate support for a motion requesting the government table documents detailing any payments to individuals on board asylum seeker boats.

An Australian Professor of International Law said such activity could be tantamount to people smuggling.

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