Spies ‘paid people smugglers’

Australian spies have reportedly made several payments to people smugglers to get them to turn back asylum seeker boats.

Both Labor and the coalition are said to have made the covert payments in government but Labor made them on land in Indonesia to prevent boats leaving for Australia, The Australian reports on Thursday.

But unlike the recent allegations involving 65 asylum seekers last month, the previous payments were made discreetly and only after the boats had returned to Indonesia.

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Former prime minister Julia Gillard insists her government did not make payments to people smugglers at sea.

“We didn’t have the same policy about turning boats around,” Ms Gillard told the BBC.

“We didn’t operate the same policy that is under discussion.”

Ms Gillard told the BBC’s Hard Talk program her government “absolutely” engaged activities to disrupt people smuggling, but she never authorised payments to people smugglers to sail away.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said it would be surprising if Australian intelligence agencies and federal police working in other countries were not on occasions paying for information.

“If there’s payments to be made to disrupt people smuggling syndicates that might also be something that you might imagine … also takes place,” he told ABC radio on Thursday, insisting he was not commenting on individual operations.

But Mr Dreyfus said allegations of payments on water “crosses the line” and might be a crime under Australian law, if not Indonesian law.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young agreed the latest claims don’t “stack up” with domestic or international law.

“Lets be honest, they’ve paid people to turn around, that’s bribery, that’s trafficking,” she told Sky News.

It was also putting the “sugar back on the table”, regardless of whether information was given in return.

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