Indonesia accuses Australia of reaching 'new low' over people-smuggler bribery allegations

Traffickers claim Australian authorities paid them to turn back their boat

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The Independent Online

Australia will have sunk to a “new low” if reports are true that its navy paid alleged people-smugglers bound for Australia to turn back their boat, it has been claimed.

Police in Indonesia arrested a boat captain and two crew members last week on suspicion of human trafficking. They reportedly told police that authorities in Australia had paid them thousands of pounds last month to turn back their boat carrying 65 migrants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma.

“Should this situation be confirmed and it turns out to be true, it would be a new low for the way the government of Australia handles the situation on irregular migration,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said yesterday.

Australia has vowed to stop asylum-seekers reaching its shores, turning boats back to Indonesia when it can and sending asylum-seekers to camps in Papua New Guinea, a policy that Mr Nasir called a “slippery slope”.

The allegations had been denied by two ministers in the Australian government, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. But, speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott did not confirm or deny the claims, telling Australian radio: “By hook or by crook, we are going to stop the trade.”

He added that he was proud of the work carried out by the country’s border protection agencies, including their use of “creative” strategies “to break this evil trade”. He refused to go into the details of how they stopped boats, saying the government does not comment on “operational matters”.