There has in the last 48 hours been a bit of press on the subject of alleged payments to Indonesian People Smugglers to turn their boats around and return to Indonesia.
The Indonesian police chief on Rote, Hidayat, said the six crew members said they had been given $US 5000 each by Australian officials. The crew were apprehended when they arrived at Rote and are being processed for people-smuggling offences.
Mr Hidayat said the captain, Yohanes, told him they had been given the money by an Australian customs officer called Agus, who spoke fluent Indonesian. The other crew members had corroborated Yohanes’ story.
“I saw the money, the $5000 was in $100 banknotes,” he said. The crew had $30,000 in total, which was wrapped in six black plastic bags, he said.
When asked on Tuesday whether Australian officials had recently paid the crew of a boat carrying asylum seekers to stay away from Australia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton simply said, “No.”
This claim seems exceedingly scandalous and bears a little closer examination. I notice that many people seem to feel because someone in authority in Indonesia said this then it is true. Much of the story seems difficult to accept.
“The great significance is how this decision would be seen in regards of our regional neighbours,” Don Rothwell said. “If Australian officials were to pay crews to take those people to Indonesia, I suspect that Indonesia and some other regional neighbours would take a dim view of that conduct from Australia.
“I cannot recall any situation where Australian officials have paid crew.”
Yet also in the story I find this interesting aside.
Mr Hidayat said it was the first time he had heard of Australian payments to people smugglers and that he was surprised the crew members had that amount of cash.
“Boat crews are usually very poor,” he said. “I even sent the money to their villages upon their request.”
Mr Hidayat said he had not confiscated the money. “What for? It is not crime-related,” he said.
One of the things that this underscores for us is that there may be an Indonesian perspective that people smuggling is not a crime. I also note that it conveniently disappears the physical evidence from the story and breaks the chain of evidence.
In another report we read
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denied the reports.
Speaking on Melbourne radio station 3AW this morning, Mr Abbott said “he did not want to go into details” about the alleged pay off.
“The Australian government will do whatever we need to do to keep this evil trade stopped,” Mr Abbott said.
Last night on the Project (channel 10) Waleed Aly ran a cameo on the subject.
The point is the moral imperative is still active. Waleed is correct in saying that we need to know that we are behaving responsibly and not engaging in behavior that in normal circumstances would be corrupt. Dodgy deals and money in plastic bags sounds dangerously like dodgy deals with money in plastic bags. The truth is we don’t know the truth about the issue yet, but we need to.
That the Prime Minister descended into moral relativism when questioned on the story is sad. The chances are he doesn’t know, and therefore has not given an unequivocal answer or he does know and does not want to tell us.
If it did happen we need to know who sanctioned it and why. If it didn’t happen we need an unequivocal ‘No’. The chances are very high that this story will get legs with anything less than the truth soon.