A lot has been said and written about the recent story that Australian officials paid people smugglers to return their passengers to Indonesia.

If the story is true, and Abbott’s repeated refusal to deny it suggests strongly that it is true, then it is clearly a criminal offence.  Section 73 of the Criminal Code deals with the offence of people smuggling.

Section 73.1 provides:

“73.1  Offence of people smuggling
(1)    A person (the first person) is guilty of an offence if:
(a)    the first person organises or facilitates the entry of another person (the other person) into a foreign country (whether or not via Australia); and
(b)    the entry of the other person into the foreign country does not comply with the requirements under that country’s law for entry into the country; and
(c)    the other person is not a citizen or permanent resident of the foreign country.
Penalty:    Imprisonment for 10 years or 1,000 penalty units, or both.

Fitting that to the probable facts: an Australian official pays smugglers to take refugees back to Indonesia; the official thereby facilitates the entry of the refugee into Indonesia; the entry does not comply with Indonesia’s rules for entry; the refugee is not a citizen or permanent resident of Indonesia.

On the same analysis, providing refugees with lifeboats and pushing them back to Indonesia is people smuggling, and simply pushing their boat back to Indonesia might also be people smuggling.

Our government speaks of people smuggling as if it only applies when Australia is the intended destination.  That is simply not so.

Tony Abbott, Scottt Morrison and Peter Dutton have described people smugglers in powerfully unflattering terms (“scum of the earth” etc) but they were describing themseves.

Interestingly, only the Attorney-General can bring a prosecution for the offence of people smuggling (section 73.5), so don’t hold your breath.