Successive Australian governments pay people smugglers: reports

Updated: 2015-06-16 14:05


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CANBERRA - Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has maintained he will do "whatever is necessary" to keep asylum seeker boats out of Australian waters, amid claims paying people smugglers has been a policy of successive governments.

The fresh allegations that the former Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were involved in the payment of people smugglers arose on Tuesday, following the current Abbott government's repeated refusal to deny its involvement in paying people smugglers to turn a boatload of asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

Australian intelligence officials have made cash payments to members of Indonesian people-smuggling rings for at least the past four years, a Fairfax Media report said on Tuesday.

It said multiple sources confirmed such payments were a tactic of successive governments, though incentivizing turnbacks were not the policy of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

Members of people-smuggling rings were paid for information about operations of the syndicate, or to dissuade them from launching boats, according to Fairfax.

When asked to comment, Labor said it would be unlawful to "divulge security or intelligence information," but denied paying people smugglers to keep people on unsafe boats.

The allegations place further pressure on Australia's weak relationship with Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Tuesday that the $30,000 in payments allegedly made to people smugglers by Australian officials to return asylum seekers to his country would amount to bribery.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has accused Australia of "deflecting the issue", but Abbott remains defiant that "stopping the boats" is the major issue.

Government data says no boats of asylum seekers entered Australian territory in April or May.

"Again the only thing that really counts here is that we have stopped the boats," Abbott said on Tuesday. "The most moral thing you can do here is to stop the boats.

"We will do whatever is necessary within the law consistent with our standards as a decent and humane society to stop the boats because that is the moral thing to do."