Thursday 8 December 2016

Australian police asked to examine '€26k bribe' to human-traffickers

Matt Siegel

Published 15/06/2015 | 17:56

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (C) Credit: Saeed Khan
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (C) Credit: Saeed Khan

Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott could face a police investigation into an alleged bribe paid to people smugglers to turn back a boatload of migrants.

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Calls grew on Monday for an inquiry into reports that Australian officials paid people-smugglers bound for Australia thousands of dollars to turn their boat back to Indonesia, with Jakarta and the United Nations also expressing serious concern.

Australia has vowed to stop asylum-seekers reaching its shores, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can and sending asylum-seekers for long-term detention in camps in impoverished South Pacific nations Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

Read More: Send migrants home to make room for refugees says European Commission

A boat captain and two crew members arrested on suspicion of human trafficking told Indonesian police Australian authorities paid each of them A$5,000 (€4,400) to turn back their vessel with 65 migrants on board.

The passengers, including children and a pregnant woman, were from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last week denied reports of payment to the smugglers but both declined to repeat the denials during a heated parliamentary debate on Monday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declined to comment, citing operational security.

A growing chorus of opposition politicians wants the government to explain.

Read More: Australian PM in storm over '€26k payment to people traffickers'

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten said the refusal to dispel the reports would entice people smugglers.

"By failing to deny reports that criminal people smugglers could be paid $30,000 if they make it to an Australian vessel, isn't the government providing a cash incentive for these dangerous voyages to take place?" Shorten asked Abbott.

Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she had asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate.

Labor has sought an inquiry from the country's auditor-general.

On Saturday, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir said Australia would have stooped to a "new low" if the reports were true.

Indonesia has yet to receive a clarification from Australia on the circumstances surrounding the push-back, deputy foreign minister A.M. Fachir said

Rohingya migrants resting on a boat off the coast near Kuala Simpang Tiga in Indonesia Credit: Januar
Rohingya migrants resting on a boat off the coast near Kuala Simpang Tiga in Indonesia Credit: Januar

Reuters

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