16 Jun 2015

Paying boat crews is 'bribery' - Indonesia

3:26 pm on 16 June 2015

Indonesia's vice-president has likened allegations Australia paid people smuggling crews to "bribery", questioning the country's ethics over claims officials paid $US5000 each to crew members of a people smuggling boat to return 65 asylum seekers to Indonesia.

Indoensian vice president Jusuf Kalla

Jusuf Kalla likened the payment allegations to 'bribery'. Photo: AFP

"Bribing is of course not according with the ethics of international relationships," vice-president Jusuf Kalla said.

Indonesia has demanded an explanation, with foreign minister Retno Marsudi releasing a statement that said it was "actually not so hard for Australia to answer the question". She also accused the country of "deflecting the issue".

Ms Marsudi's spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, told ABC News Indonesia she was concerned about the humanitarian aspects of turning back boats, pointing out that the boat at the centre of the bribery allegations was carrying women and children when it ran aground on a remote Indonesian reef.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot

Tony Abbott said relations between Australia and Indonesia have improved. Photo: AFP

This morning, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the country's relations with Indonesia.

"The great thing about stopping the boats is that [it] has very much improved our relationship with Indonesia," Mr Abbott said.

"We will do whatever is necessary within the law, consistent with our standards as a decent and humane society, to stop the boats because... that's the moral thing to do.

"The only thing that really counts is: have we stopped the boats? And the answer is a resounding yes."

Mr Abbott and members of his Cabinet have repeatedly refused to deny the allegations.

Last week, Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton both denied the payments were made, but neither backed up their statements in Question Time on Monday.

On Monday, Mr Abbott said in Parliament: "The very consistent position of this Government has been not to comment on operational details."

Labor won't rule out payments under its watch

While this alleged payment happened recently, successive Australian governments have used so-called disruption techniques since at least 2001.

In a speech in 2012, ASIS head Nick Warner laid out some of the spy agency's role.

"ASIS also has a role in efforts to counter the activities of people smuggling networks attempting to deliver people to Australia," Mr Warner said.

"ASIS has contributed intelligence and expertise leading to many significant and unheralded successes in recent years which have disrupted people smuggling syndicates and their operations."

The Intelligence Services Act means ASIS agents would not be liable for prosecution for paying people smugglers as long as they were acting as part of the "proper performance of the agency".

As Mr Warner's speech was made while Labor was in power, the ABC asked if Labor could rule out the possibility that ASIS made payments to people smugglers, on the water or on land, at any time during the Rudd-Gillard years.

A spokeswoman for shadow immigration minister Richard Marles responded that: "It's unlawful for the Government or the Opposition to divulge security or intelligence information."

But she said Labor would not pay people smugglers to keep people on "unsafe boats" and "neither should the Government".

When asked whether it was legal for ASIS to pay asylum boat crews, Mr Abbott said he was "absolutely confident that at all times Australian agencies having acted within the law".

"I just want to repeat, and you can ask me any number of times, but I am in the business of supporting our agencies not undermining them," he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor was hypocritical to call for the Government to provide answers it would not give.

"Labor's hypocrisy has been revealed, really, because when Labor and Bill Shorten were asked to rule out that any such payments were made under the period of the Rudd and Gillard Governments, what was the answer by Mr Shorten?" Mr Cormann said.

"That they don't comment on intelligence and security matters."

-ABC

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