People smuggler payment scandal: Turnbacks are the real crime

The reports that the Coalition government paid six asylum boat crew over $6000 each to return asylum seekers to Indonesia has made dramatic news headlines around Australia and the world.

The incident did expose the hypocrisy and corruption of the Australian government. Abbott is usually howling about “people smugglers’ business models” but had no problems with such a business to ferry asylum seekers back to Indonesia. But the real crime was intercepting the boat on the high seas and turning it back, not paying the boat crew.

The focus on paying the people smugglers only reinforced the negative stereotypes and cemented the idea that people smuggling is a crime, when asylum seekers have no choice but to use boats because there is no other way to get to safety.

Tellingly, Labor’s attack on Abbott paying the people smugglers evaporated when it was revealed that Labor was involved in the same kind of dirty disruption tactics when it was in office. In 2009, the Rudd Labor government gave $21 million to ASIS to use for disruption operations in Indonesia.

Shorten was left spluttering at a press conference, “…when it comes to security matters, we simply don’t comment”—an adoption of the Coalition’s line that they can’t comment on “operational matters”.

It’s no crime to seek asylum and it should be no crime to bring the boats. Labor could have explicitly opposed the turnback policy, it could have committed a Labor government to end the ban on Australia accepting refugees from Indonesia. But Labor’s “me-tooism” with Abbott on refugee policy leaves it hopelessly compromised.

By Ian Rintoul


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Labor’s permanent visas announcement leaves thousands behind

Labor’s announcement on permanent visas has been overshadowed by the fact that thousands of other refugees have been left in a hell of uncertainty.

Albanese leaves refugees behind in PNG

Anthony Albanese visited PNG in January, but said nothing of the refugees who had been sent to Manus Island in 2013 when he was deputy prime minister in the Rudd Labor government that imprisoned them offshore.

Refugees have unfinished business with Labor

On 29 November more than 1000 refugees rallied on the lawns of Canberra’s Parliament House to once again demand Labor make good on its pre-election promise to grant permanent visas to refugees on temporary visas.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here