Turns Out Both Labor & Liberal Governments Have Been Paying Off People Smugglers

Hold onto your butts, friends. Because this – if true – is a real doozy.

Over the course of the past week we’ve all sat with gritted teeth as report after report trickled in, alleging that the Abbott Government had made payments to people smugglers to turn back boats carrying asylum seekers. It is alleged that as much as USD$5,000 was paid to all six members of a boat crew carrying asylum seekers to turn the ship around and sail back to Indonesia.
Despite continual reporting and questioning from the media, Prime Minister Tony Abbott bafflingly refuses to give a simple yes or no answer on the issue to either confirm or deny the Government’s involvement. Instead, he has resorted to the familiar sloganistic rhetoric with which his office has become synonymous with; instead of addressing the issue head on, he repeatedly asserts that the Government is doing whatever it takes, with the phrase “by hook or by crook” repeated en masse.
With ammo like that at the ready, you’d imagine that the Labor party would be more than happy to go for the jugular and attack this, frankly, abhorrent behaviour that ranks – at best – as wildly immoral, and at worst as flat-out illegal, right? Which they have. To a degree.
But as it turns out, they could well be in it just as deep as the Coalition.
Fairfax Media reports that as far back as 2010 – during the then-Rudd Government – the Labor party was aware of payments made by intelligence agencies to people smugglers for various means.
Whilst it’s important to note here that these new allegations do not include any payments made to implore crews to turn boats around, they do allege that Intelligence officials paid people smugglers for information into the operations of their syndicate, or in some cases to dissuade them from setting sail.
What’s more, request for comment from four (count ’em, FOUR) Labor Immigration Ministers – the incumbent Richard Marles, and former ministers Chris Bowen, Tony Burke, and Brendan O’Connor – yielded only a comment from a spokesperson in Marles’ office.

“It’s unlawful for the government or the opposition to divulge security or intelligence information.”

As for the current Government, Prime Minister Abbott was again pressed with questioning this morning on the issue, and again refused to do anything but play political dodgeball.

“Australia will do whatever is necessary, within the law, consistent with our standards as a decent and humane society to stop the boats.”

“I am absolutely confident that at all times Australian agencies have acted within the law. I am in the business of supporting our agencies, not undermining them.”

The thought that perhaps publicly elected Government officials need to re-learn the difference between not undermining a Government agency, and acting with transparency and due diligence to hold immoral and potential illegal conduct to account is, indeed, a bloody nice one.

In fact, such is the seriousness of what’s being alleged here, judicial experts speculate that – if proved to be true – any official found to have paid people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia may have broken Australian laws that carry potential 20 year jail sentences, whilst simultaneously contravening International law.
But here’s the catch – the prosecution of any individual for that would have to be done with the consent of the Attorney-General, George Brandis. Arguably one of the staunchest Government officials currently getting about in Canberra.
So it’s entirely possible that the use of taxpayer money to illegally pay off people smugglers has been a Government tactic utilised by both major parties. And the only man currently capable of holding people to account for this, cannot himself be held accountable for refusing to do so.
The international reputation Australia has attained for these long-held farcical policies is practically in the toilet, and only getting worse. And with a two-party system that merely represents two sides of the same coin, what little hope is there of attaining meaningful change in the future?
At times like this it’s comforting to know that as a privileged society, decent, reasonably priced whisky is never far from hand.
Photo: Pool via Getty Images.