Paying off the people smugglers

By   /   June 17, 2015  /   11 Comments

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Is New Zealand aware of this policy of paying the people smugglers? Is there any complicity on our part – did Australia send the bill to the 9th floor?

TheRealTruth

Many of you will recall our prime minister’s recent scaremongering and distraction tactics when he announced that there was a “credible” threat of a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers reaching New Zealand’s shores.

Predictably, of course, the boat got nowhere near the land of the long white cloud, country of immigrants and the home of the fair go (at least the one with Kevin Milne).

At the time, the prime minster claimed that we had instigated our “processes” in how we deal with these things, while being exceptionally thin on the detail of what those processes were.

Media in Australia have since reported allegations that the Australian government paid possibly up to $30,000 for the boat to return to Indonesia. Tony Abbott has refused to directly answer the allegations and has instead focused on his administration’s so-called track record in stopping the boats.

Given this deliberate obfuscation, it is not unfair to suggest that the evidence indicates that indeed Australia has been paying people smugglers to not come further on to Australia. This raises a number of questions.

First, it questions the core of the Australian policy going back to the Howard government. That policy has been to focus on the “people smugglers” – to use criminal and security language to marginalize those on the boat seeking asylum. By focusing on the people smugglers, the glare has not been on fleeing human rights abuse, but on the criminal act of the people smugglers themselves.

Here I wish to make a quick tangential observation. Refugee status is not a beast of our immigration policy. It is a human rights remedy for human rights abuse. It is a protection mechanism, not a discretionary immigration decision. Human rights law obligates countries to protect these individuals. It is important to tailor all of the debate around refugees with this in mind.

But now there are serious questions as to whether Australia is directly paying the people smugglers. This would make Australia complicit in sustaining the market for these same criminals – the market that the politicians consistently decry. Surely this directly contradicts and undermines the entire tenancy of the policy to focus on the people smugglers?

This question of complicity is more than just one of economic language, but also directly raises the issue of criminal law. A regular citizen paying these same individuals would be subject to potential prosecution yet the Australian government seems willing to engage in this prohibited behavior under the rubric of “security”.

It also raises the question of whether this is part of the “processes” that our prime minister referred to. Is New Zealand aware of this policy of paying the people smugglers? Is there any complicity on our part – did Australia send the bill to the 9th floor? Our prime minister is currently playing ignorance, yet we deserve more transparency when our PM speaks of “processes” but will not lay these out. The concept of “security” does not demand secrecy. It demands accountable policy making.

Of course, I am being somewhat facetious on my suggestions that the bill was sent on to us. I have no reason to believe this and would hope that our country’s attempts to parrot Australia’s punitive policy on asylum seekers to not stretch so low.

These allegations highlight the ultimate absurdity of Australia’s policies on asylum seekers driven by an undertone of xenophobia and racism. Today, Australian media indicated that this policy of paying people smugglers stretches back to the Labor government, although this is denied by the Labor leader, showing that the stain of this absurdity stretches across both major parties.

This hypocrisy in Australia undermines any claim of Australia being a country where rule of law guarantees access to justice. There can be no access, when justice is completely denied.

It is an embarrassment to New Zealand that this government seeks to imitate such a misplaced policy that does nothing to contribute to a broader regional approach with protection at its core. In truth, this government exhibits no independent foreign policy. This absence of intellect harms our international reputation at a time when we should be pursuing an independent and thoughtful voice while on the Security Council.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. There are more refugees today than at any time since the Second World War. Rather than criminalise refugees and ignore the causative factors forcing people to flee, the international community needs to reframe its thinking on how to provide protection to the millions who deserve it.

But this government is not interested. Refugees don’t buy a lot of milk powder.

 

 

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About the author

Michael Timmins

Michael Timmins is an expert in international human rights law. Specialising in refugee rights, Michael has worked in Egypt, the United States, Australia, Thailand, Pakistan and his home country of New Zealand across roles in advocacy, academia, and government. He is also a member of the Child Poverty Action Group's Management Committee. Michael’s writing covers international human rights, counter-terrorism, international environmental law, rule of law and accountability issues, as well as anything interesting happening in international relations.

11 Comments

  1. Dan says:

    I suppose it is better that sinking them, or having the boat people spend the rest of their lives some island in the middle of nowhere, but I cannot see how this will discourage people smuggling when the smugglers think they will get paid at both ends.

  2. Stephen says:

    All I am reading in this article is claims based on allegations, what proof have you got that the boats have been paid to turn around?

    • D'Esterre says:

      @ Stephen:”All I am reading in this article is claims based on allegations, what proof have you got that the boats have been paid to turn around?”

      Go read some Australian news websites. They have journalists over there who actually know how to do investigations of this sort. Pay attention, too, to what the Australian Prime Minister has – and hasn’t! – said on the topic. You’ll have your answer there; corruption has a deep history on that side of the Tasman. Which is, of course, why Abbott doesn’t see this practice as exceptionable.

  3. wild katipo says:

    Well…certainly seems like the Indonesians are taking it seriously.

    And ,…the whole situation could be cleared up instantly if Abbott simply was up front about just what was going on.

    Of course you’re going to raise suspicions if you act like he is doing.
    .
    Absolutely foolish of the man.

    Its almost as if he designed it to raise suspicions.

    Totally stupid !!!

    All its making it look like is some scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean -with the Governor of a 17th century Caribbean port town handing over a chest full of pieces of eight to avoid the pirates ravaging the town.

    Basically – paying off the thugs and brigand’s.

    What next ? protection racketeering ???

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      The Indonesian government and authorities are simply loving this news about Australia paying “people smugglers” (human trafficers is more appropriate), because this gives them the perfect excuse to treat refugees reaching their shores the same way, or even worse.

      Not so long ago we heard about boat-loads of Rohinga refugees being turned away by Malaysian and Thai patrol boats, and also about Indonesia not wanting to accept them on its shores.

      Only due to local people taking action, did some Rohingas from Myanmar reach Aceh Province, and were they given some shelter there. The Indonesian government has an appalling record for treating refugees. Let us also not forget their ethnic cleansing in West Papua, where they resettle hundreds of thousands of Malays from Indonesian islands, to create a dominant majority over the native Papua tribal populations.

      It is absurd to give Indonesia’s government much credit, they just love to see the Australian government discredit itself, for ulterior motives.

  4. Mike the Lefty says:

    It is an important question: why would Australia pay off people smugglers who were sending their cargo to New Zealand? It would be slightly more credible if they were going to Australia, given Abbot’s ranting about stopping them landing by hook or by crook; but why should he or his government care if they were on their way to New Zealand?. You would have thought that they would have simply stepped back and let them get on their way. But no, they pay them off so they don’t somehow, miraculously make it to Godzone. Concern for their safety perhaps? Probably not, smells a bit fishy here.

    • D'Esterre says:

      @ Mike the Lefty: “It would be slightly more credible if they were going to Australia, given Abbot’s ranting about stopping them landing by hook or by crook; but why should he or his government care if they were on their way to New Zealand?”

      You’ve hit the nail on the head; I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that no journalists I’ve seen have picked up on this.

      But it’s wildly implausible that Australia would be so altruistic as to pay off smugglers to stop them coming here. The evidence suggests two scenarios. Either the boat wasn’t on its way here, but the PM told us it was because he needed it as a distraction from some other bad news; or it was on its way here, and our government knows about, and sanctions, the payment regime. The PM’s refusal to condemn the practice outright tends to support the latter scenario.

  5. Jack says:

    “But now there are serious questions as to whether Australia is directly paying the people smugglers. This would make Australia complicit in sustaining the market for these same criminals”

    Yep. If the supposed Aussies paid them off, then they are definitely corrupt. One of his speeches he mentioned that they would do whatever it takes to send these people back….

    One thing you have to take into consideration is that no government wants these people and that no government truly cares about human rights. If you think I am wrong, send them a letter asking them to raise their quota. You won’t get anything back.

  6. mary_a says:

    As it’s been reported the boat was heading to NZ, this situation gives me cause to suspect perhaps the payment direction came from this side of the Tasman. Has the currency trader stench on it!

    • Mike in Auckland says:

      I actually doubt that our government would plan and think all that far ahead. Look at so much else, they rather sit back and rely on Australia to do so many things, that New Zealand may “benefit” from.

      We have no air-force, we have hardly much of what defence experts would call a viable, useful navy, we have few land based soldiers, we can barely fund health and education. And we even face cuts in welfare, because Key and his lot prefer keeping the upper and upper middle class happy with tax cuts, low taxes anyway, with increased shares in privatised power companies and so, rather than look after the poor and weak.

      Australia being so hard-line is just to the liking of John Key and his Nats, as it saves them showing their faces, they rather stand or sit behind the Abbott government, and keep their mouths shut.

      A token service commitment of a few trainers and many “guards” to train hopeless Iraqi soldiers is what they get away with, to be counted as belonging to “the club”.

      No, Key will simply sit back, relax, and be “grateful” for Abbott doing the work for him, no sweat asked for.

      He will in return stop creating any demands or a “stink” about Kiwis in Australia not getting social support when out of work, and that will do Abbott also.

      Why bother committing any payments, when the first “front-line” those refugees face is off the shore of Australia, they have to cross that first, to ever get through Torres Strait, and that is still a long shot away from us.

      • D'Esterre says:

        @ Mike in Auckland: “No, Key will simply sit back, relax, and be “grateful” for Abbott doing the work for him, no sweat asked for.”

        There isn’t the slightest chance that the Australians would be so altruistic as to voluntarily pay off people smugglers bound for NZ. That just isn’t how polities work; there’s nothing in it for them. You can bet your bottom dollar that if these guys were indeed headed here, but paid off, our government knew about it. And if our government didn’t know about the payments, the people smugglers weren’t coming here, no matter what the PM said to the contrary.



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