A lot has been said about whether our government paid people smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia. The evidence clearly suggests that it did.
Tony Abbott refused to deny that Australia had paid people smugglers, and said we would do whatever it takes to stop the boats. Here he is on the Neil Mitchell programme on 3AW on 12 June 2015:
“Mitchell: These allegations that Australia paid people smugglers to turn back the boats – did it happen or not?
Abbott: Well, Neil, we don’t comment on operational matters but we are determined to ensure that illegal boats don’t get to Australia and we will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effect of this evil and damaging trade that cost lives.
Mitchell: But surely we wouldn’t pay people smugglers, they’re criminals?
Abbott: Well, what we do is we stop the boats by hook or by crook, …”
“Mitchell: I don’t know about the relationship with Indonesia. They’re saying today they’re shocked by the allegations we paid people smugglers. Are we at least investigating whether it happened?
Abbott: Neil, I want to say to you and your listeners that I am proud of the work that our border protection agencies have done. I really am proud of the work that they’ve done and they’ve been incredibly creative in coming up with a whole range of strategies to break this evil trade …
Mitchell: Will we investigate whether it happened?
Abbott: As I said by hook or by crook we are going to stop the trade, we have stopped the trade, and we will do what we have to do to ensure that it stays stopped.
Mitchell: Will the Australian government investigate whether it happened?
Abbott: The short answer is the Australian government will do whatever we need to do to keep this evil trade stopped.
Mitchell: Including paying people smugglers?
Abbott: We will do whatever we need to do to keep this trade stopped because that’s what the public expects. …”
“Mitchell: Prime minister, will the Australian government investigate whether it happened?
Abbott: Um, Neil, what we are doing is saving life at sea. We are defending our national sovereignty, we are protecting our country from the evil trade of people smuggling and by hook or by crook we will do what is necessary to keep our country safe and to keep this evil trade stopped. …”
The Commonwealth Criminal Code makes people smuggling a criminal offence. Here is an extract from the Criminal Code:
Subdivision A—People smuggling offences
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.
Summarizing it, the elements are that you facilitate the entry of a person into a country where they are not a citizen and they do not go through ordinary entry procedures.
Paying people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia appears to satisfy each element.
But even if money was not paid, we have been piling asylum seekers into orange lifeboats to return them to Indonesia. That satisfies the definition of people smuggling even more clearly. And the government makes no secret about it.
The question all Australians should ask is this: should a government engage in criminal acts in order to give effect to a policy, regardless whethe the policy is good or bad, popular or unpopular?
Proper respect for the rule of law demands that a government should not engage in criminal conduct.