Claims Australian govt paid people smugglers 'not acceptable' – Shearer

David Shearer (Simon Wong/3 News)
David Shearer (Simon Wong/3 News)

The Australian government has come under fire, with Amnesty International calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into claims officials paid people smugglers to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia.

A damning report says the crew of the New Zealand-bound boat were given nearly $50,000, but the New Zealand Government is denying knowledge of any illegal activity.

Amnesty International says cellphone footage filmed by an asylum seeker proves the Australian government acted illegally.

"That's just gambling with people's lives," says Amnesty International's Grant Bayldon. "We should never see that from a government."

Mr Bayldon says there's veil of secrecy and wants to know how high up the authority to pay people smugglers goes.

"How high does it go? At what level does paying people smugglers [get] authorised?" he asks.

The report also accuses Australian officials of keeping asylum seekers – including woman and children – in cells on a Border Force ship and denying them medical care.

The Australian government denies all claims in the report. Its Immigration Minister wouldn't respond to requests for comment by 3 News, but a spokesperson told Australian media the borders regime was "conducted consistent with Australian domestic law and Australia's obligations under international law".

Amnesty International is now calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry and has the backing of Labour's foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer.

"I don't think it's acceptable at all," he says. "It goes against all tenants of international law."

Mr Shearer says paying smugglers is effectively rewarding them and thinks this could damage Australia's bid for a seat on the Human Rights' Council.

Mr Shearer says given one of the boats was heading for New Zealand, the Prime Minister should now rule out any knowledge of the incident.

John Key is overseas and in a statement his office said it has no information about any alleged payments and it was a matter for the Australian government.

3 News