Labor requests urgent investigation into alleged boat bribes

THE Federal Opposition has requested the Auditor-General launch an urgent investigation into claims the government paid people smugglers to turn back an asylum seeker boat.

The allegations were raised after asylum seekers claimed Australian border protection officials paid people smugglers to return them to Indonesia.

It is alleged the officials handed over US$5000 in $100 bills to the six crew members.

The government has strongly rejected the claim.

International law experts said if the claim proves to be accurate the payments are akin to the Australian government funding people smuggling.

Several government ministers refused to answer questions on the topic during question time on Monday, saying they would not comment on operational security matters.

They said their stance was in line with that of the former Labor Government that also refused to comment on border protection matters while in power.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the former Labor Government had lined the pockets of people smugglers when they were in power which saw more than 800 boats and 50,000 asylum-seekers flood our shores.

He said that was on top of the 1200 deaths at sea under their watch and he was happy to stand by his record on the issue which included zero boat arrivals and zero deaths.

Labor's immigration parliamentary secretary Matt Thistlewaite said the public deserved to know whether the government was funding people smugglers.

"Under Australian law people smuggling is illegal and it carries very severe jail sentences," he said.

"The Australian public deserves the right to know whether or not Australian taxpayers' dollars have been expended and given to potential criminals."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop added fuel to the fire on Monday saying Indonesia was to blame for failing to secure its borders in the first place.

"The best way for Indonesia to resolve any concerns it has about Operation Sovereign Borders is for Indonesia to enforce sovereignty over its borders," she said

"Operation Sovereign Borders is necessary because Indonesian boats with Indonesian crews are leaving Indonesia with the express intention of breaching our sovereignty, facilitated by illegal people-smuggling syndicates."

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she had asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether any payments had been made to crews of boats carrying asylum seekers.

She said the allegations must be dealt with immediately and the Greens would use whatever means it can, including the powers of the Senate, to seek an answer.

The United Nations claims it has interviewed the 65 asylum seekers involved who confirmed they were put on two boats and sent back to Indonesia.

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