Sydney, Australia (AFP) – Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday Australia would do “whatever we need to do” to combat people-smuggling as he repeatedly refused to deny claims an official paid thousands of dollars to turn back a boat from Indonesia.
Indonesian authorities said they were investigating allegations told to local police that the captain and five crew of a boat carrying asylum-seekers were each paid US$5,000 by an Australian immigration official to return to the Southeast Asian nation.
The boat was carrying asylum-seekers from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and had come ashore on Rote island in eastern Indonesia in late May after they were intercepted en route to New Zealand by the Australian navy.
“The short answer is: the Australian government will do whatever we need to do to keep this evil (people-smuggling) trade stopped,” Abbott told radio station 3AW when repeatedly asked if crew had been paid by an Australian official.
“By hook or by crook, we are going to stop the trade,” he said. “We have stopped the trade and we will do what we have to do to ensure that it stays stopped.”
The Australian leader told reporters later he would not reveal any details of his government’s border-protection policies “because I’m not in the business of implicitly or explicitly giving information to people smugglers”.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said Thursday that if the claims were correct “we would truly regret that something like this could happen”.
Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles called on Abbott to reveal what really happened with the boat.
“This whole area of policy is being conducted under a shroud of secrecy, which has no national security element to it, but is merely a media strategy,” Marles told reporters.
“(It) denies the Australian people the opportunity to scrutinise policy which is most certainly in the public interest,” he said.