Call to end ‘breathtaking’ secrecy over people smuggler tactics

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has written the Auditor-General asking him to investigate claims that taxpayer funds were used to pay people smugglers to turn back their boat.

It was revealed on Sunday that refugees claimed the Australian Navy paid their boat crew thousands of dollars to return them to Indonesia.

Mr Shorten told Fairfax the secrecy over the allegations was “breathtaking” and called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to tell Australians “what happened”.

Refugees tell UN that Navy paid smugglers
• Abbott won’t deny smuggler pay-off
• Navy turns back asylum seekers, boat hits reef 

“People smugglers should be in prison, not on the Government’s payroll,” Mr Shorten said.

Hundreds of people were taken from Indonesia to Christmas Island by people smugglers.

Hundreds of people were taken from Indonesia to Christmas Island by people smugglers.

“Tony Abbott must tell Australians once and for all what on earth is going on here.”

Last week, Immigration denied allegations people smugglers were paid, with a one-word response: “No.”

But the PM repeatedly refused to deny or confirm the reports, despite growing pressure for answers from Indonesia, the United Nations, Labor and the Greens.

He rebuffed Indonesia’s request for a response to claims that Australian officials paid a people-smuggling crew US$5000 (A$6500) in US$100 bills, to turn back to Indonesia, Fairfax reported.

“There’s really only one thing to say here and that is that we have stopped the boats,” Mr Abbott said on Sunday.

“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.”

When asked if Australia would be launching an investigation into the claims, Mr Abbott replied: “Again I keep making the point the only question that matters is, ‘Is this government prepared to do what is necessary to keep the boats stopped?’. The answer is yes.”

Labor Immigration Spokesman Richard Marles wrote to the Auditor-General on Sunday night requesting an investigation into whether the payments were made.

“If this happened, there are serious questions about the legal basis upon which it has happened,” Mr Marles told ABC radio on Monday.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she would ask the Australian Federal Police to investigate the claims and whether any laws had been broken.

She said Australians had a right to know whether taxpayer funds had been used.

“(Mr Abbott) doesn’t have a mandate to break the law,” Ms Hanson-Young told ABC radio.

“He doesn’t have a mandate to hand out wads of cash on the ocean to people smugglers.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop turned the heat on Indonesia, after the country’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi sought an explanation from Australia’s ambassador Paul Grigson over the allegations.

Ms Bishop told The Australian the best way for Indonesia to resolve its concerns about Australia’s operations to stop asylum seeker boats was to “enforce sovereignty over its borders”.

with AAP

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