16 Jun 2015

Labour 'unconvinced' at Govt stance on payments

9:13 am on 16 June 2015

Labour Party leader Andrew Little does not believe the Government had no knowledge of whether Australian officials paid people-smugglers to turn around a boat full of refugees.

Andrew Little during caucas run this morning.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Migrants trying to reach New Zealand said crew on their vessel, intercepted by an Australian patrol in May, were paid to turn back to Indonesia.

Senior Australian government ministers, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, are refusing to confirm or deny the claims.

Prime Minister John Key said he had no knowledge of whether Australian officials paid people-smugglers to turn around a boat full of refugees.

Mr Little told Morning Report he was not convinced.

"State governments are communicating with each other all the time on issues just like this," he said.

"I just do not believe that our government would not have known about this, would not have known about the payments.

"It's interesting to see that there is a New Zealand police officer now interviewing people on the boat."

Immigration New Zealand said yesterday a police officer from this country was an observer in the Indonesian police-led investigation into the alleged people-smuggling operation.

Payment claims

The boat with 65 people on board was intercepted by an Australian border patrol after setting off from West Java on 5 May. The asylum seekers told police the Australians transferred them to a more seaworthy boat and escorted them back to Indonesian waters.

However the vessel crashed onto a reef near the remote Rote Island, off West Papua, in late May, where it was found by fishermen and rescued by the Indonesian navy.

One of the migrants told Radio New Zealand that when the boat was intercepted, maritime authorities spent several hours talking to the boat's captain and crew, after which the captain was seen putting Australian money into his pocket.

Speaking from Kupang, Indonesia, Nazmul Hassan, told Morning Report at least $A7200 was paid to the captain and crew for each passenger. Mr Hassan said Indonesian authorities later confiscated much of that money.

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