‘Five questions the Abbott government needs to answer on the people smuggling payment claims’, Sarah Whyte, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15.06.15
Last week asylum seekers and the Indonesian police chief claimed Australian officials handed money over to a crew of people smugglers to return a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia. The Indonesian government has now launched an investigation and the Abbott government is facing increased pressure from Labor and international organisations to explain what happened. Here are five questions the government should answer about the allegations:
1. Did Australian officials hand over payments to a crew of people smugglers?
Initially Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop denied the allegations, saying “no” when asked if Australian authorities paid people smugglers to return to Indonesia. But on Friday and again on Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to confirm or deny whether or not the allegations were true. All ministers have since fallen in line, quoting “operational matters” when asked about the allegations.
2. If the allegations are true, is this the first time that money has been given to people smugglers by Australian authorities and is this legal?
Immigration and law experts have said giving people smugglers money would be “unprecedented”, as it could constitute a form of people smuggling or bribery. Officials are well protected by the sweeping Migration Act, but the act says nothing about offering payments to criminal gangs such as people smugglers. If the payments were made, Australia could have also breached its obligations under the Convention on Transnational and Organised Crime.
3. Why did Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop give two different answers to whether the allegations were true only days apart?
Both cabinet ministers denied the payments took place last week, but have since changed their tune. On Sunday Mr Dutton said he would not comment on “specific operations”. Ms Bishop has now suggested Indonesia is to blame for failing to enforce sovereignty over its own borders, refusing to deny the allegations.
4. Is Australia’s international ASIS spy agency involved in the payments?
The Daily Telegraph claims that Australian spies may have been involved in the payments. ASIS falls under the responsibility of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and is Australia’s most secretive spy agency – even more secretive than Operation Sovereign Borders.
5. Will the Abbott government fully co-operate with a potential Auditor-General’s investigation, including handing over operational details not available to the public?
Labor has urgently written to the Auditor-General to investigate whether the government has used taxpayer money to fund criminal activities. The Auditor-General has the ability to independently review the use and spending of taxpayers’ money by the government.