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Were people smugglers paid money to take refuges away from New Zealand?

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, October 30th, 2015 - 34 comments
Categories: australian politics, david shearer, International, john key, national, national/act government - Tags: , ,

Amnesty money

Amnesty International has published a report By Hook or by Crook: Australia’s Abuse of Asylum-Seekers at Sea which has rightfully been described as a damning indictment of Australia’s handling of the refugee crisis.

The report reviews Australia’s handling of the refugee boat interception of the Pelabuhan Ratu and the report includes comment on a boat that was apparently heading for New Zealand.  I thought previously that when news of this attempt were published it was just an attempt by the Government to raise panic but after reading the report it appears to be clear that an attempt was actually made.

The Australian action has the ominous sounding title Operation Sovereign Border.  The justification for the interception offered by the Australian authorities was the claim that the boar was under distress and had to be returned to Indonesia so that lives could be preserved.

Amnesty International interviewed the refugees on board, the crew of the boat, the Indonesian Police and conducted research into what actually happened.  The report comments that the evidence from all groups was remarkably consistent.

The ship itself was said to be perfectly adequate for the trip and the crew were sufficiently experienced to conduct the trip.

The ship was initially intercepted and the people warned on May 17, 2015.  Then five days later a further interception occurred.

The executive summary contains this chilling description of what happened:

Australian Navy personnel boarded the boat and remained there. That night all the men were kept outside the cabin by armed Australian personnel. It rained hard for several hours, and salt spray was blown on board. Nevertheless, all 58 men were forced to stay outside with no protection from the elements. The pregnant woman told Amnesty International that she was in a great deal of pain that night – an Australian doctor examined her but just told her to drink water. None of the passengers was given food on the evening of 22 May. On 23 May, they were allowed to eat and the men were permitted to enter the cabin. Australian ships then escorted the boat to Greenhill Island, an Australian territory near Darwin.

While anchored at Greenhill Island, the Australian officials told the passengers that they would be able to bathe if they went on board the Border Force ship. Fifty passengers decided to transfer to the Border Force ship; 15 remained on the original boat. It was at this point, on the original boat, that the crew claim the Australian officials gave them money. The crew told Amnesty International that two of them received 6,000 USD each, and four received 5,000 USD apiece, making a total of 32,000 USD. One of the 15 asylum-seekers who had remained on board described how he saw the captain meeting with the Australians in the boat’s kitchen and saw the captain put a thick white envelope in his shorts’ pocket.

Meanwhile the fifty people who went to the Border Force ship, who included the three children and the pregnant woman, were put into cells and held there for approximately seven days. The cells were cramped and without air conditioning. While on board the Australian ship a number of people developed health problems. One woman said that she fainted three times from the heat and the stress, hitting her head on one occasion. An Australian doctor examined her but said he did not have permission to give her medicine. Another woman who has blood pressure problems claims that she was not allowed to take her own medicine, which had been taken away from her by the Australians. Similarly, a man who suffers from asthma said that he was not permitted to access his inhaler, which had been confiscated, and he suffered asthma attacks while confined to the cell.

The asylum seekers were then transferred to two smaller boats which they thought was not as well equipped as the original boat.  The crew complied but the report notes that they may have been acting under duress.

The incident then took a turn for the worse.

On the way back to Indonesia, the two boats were initially escorted by two Australian Navy ships, two Border Force ships, and six speedboats. The Australians left the boats at around 11 a.m. on 31 May. A few hours later, one of the boats ran out of fuel. The crew members successfully transferred all the passengers onto the other boat, which was then dangerously over-crowded. Video taken by one of the asylum-seekers shows the transfer operation. The crew told Amnesty International that, at this point, the situation was dangerous and the passengers were panicking. The crew managed to steer the boat to Landu Island, an island near Rote Island, where it struck a reef in the late afternoon on 31 May 2015. Local people helped rescue them.

The issue of payments to the crew is then discussed:

The Australian Government has denied that Australian officials paid a boat crew to take people to Indonesia. The denials, made by two Australian government ministers, are challenged by all of the available evidence. Amnesty International has documented the first- hand testimony of the men who received the money. Amnesty International has also documented the testimony of an eye-witnesses to the Australian officials handing over money to the crew. The police who detained the crew members confirm they were found with approximately 32,000 USD and showed Amnesty International the money they confiscated from the crew.

So first hand testimony from the disparate groups and large amounts of cash.  Generally this is pretty good evidence that what they say occurred actually did occur.

During June then Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked about the payments.  He refused to confirm or deny the boat payment allegation and instead said the government would stop the boats “by hook or by crook”.  I think that you could take his comments as a confirmation that the payments were actually made.

It is certainly arguable that serious breaches of international and/or domestic law have occurred.  The specific breaches could include people smuggling, detention and breaches of various maritime provisions.

New Zealand’s involvement and knowledge of what was happening should be investigated.  Presuming the payments happened it is difficult to understand how the New Zealand authorities could not know what was happening.

John Key was asked a few months ago about the payments and New Zealand’s knowledge of what had happened.  The audio is here.  I could be accused of being a cynic but his explanation does not sound convincing.

David Shearer is right.  The Government needs to assure the public that it has not paid people smugglers to take refugees bound for New Zealand away from New Zealand.

34 comments on “Were people smugglers paid money to take refuges away from New Zealand? ”

  1. savenz 1


    There are so many breaches now of international law and people and governments are getting away with it. No one wants to investigate (look at what is happening to some of our leading journalists around the world).

    There is no mainstream media to break it too, because most of them are now multinationals all for profit and manipulating the news for their shareholders and advertisers rather than breaking the news.

    In addition, there are so many scandals now, there is ‘ public fatigue’, caused by no clear way to find out what really happened and few who will bring anyone to justice over it and no real media to get to the bottom of the scandal to break the story.

    And ‘public fatigue’ is just what those corrupt politicians and individuals have striven for, to further their agenda.

    And there is also ‘political opposition fatigue’. The opposition don’t seem to be able to cope with the daily abuses of power by others and seem to have retreated themselves. Which also makes them a target for doing so little.

  2. audio is classic key – dunno, to the best of my knowledge, dunno dunno…

    be good to find out the truth but pinning this, and having the evidence to prove that, on key and the gnats is a bridge too far I think

    • mary_a 2.1

      @ marty mars –

      “audio is classic key – dunno, to the best of my knowledge, dunno dunno…”

      These pathetic negative responses by FJK, which he uses regularly in Parliament and through media, indicate he is (was at the time) in full knowledge of what Australian government agencies were doing. If something is vile and corrupt, I can almost guarantee FJK is part of the dirty play!

      • Smilin 2.1.1

        Thats Key all over selling what he knows best “neither confirm or deny ” probably drilled into him when was in training working for the Fed.Or the other one thats not a bank but an agency

  3. Wainwright 3

    Why would boat people even come here? Australia’s easier to get to and a lot harder to miss.

    • dukeofurl 3.1

      Because Australia will immediately detain them in offshore camps, and if they ever do get a visa, they can never sponsor another family member for migration.

  4. Steve Wrathall 4

    When boatloads of welfare-shoppers are heading for your shores there are no “nice” options kiddies. It is much better to demonstrate to them and anyone foolish enough to contemplate following them that they will end up massively worse off, eventually be returned to their country and lose tens of thousands of dollars. Of do you prefer
    they just give up and allow anyone to force their way in , and end up with Europe’s catastrophe?

    • amirite 4.1

      Whoa, was empathy surgically removed from you when you were born?
      God forbid you find yourself in their situation. We’d be all going deaf with your bawling.

      • Steve Wrathall 4.1.1

        If people want to come here they can apply properly from their own countries or thru agencies in the first safe country they get to. Why should we empathize with queue-jumpers who are climbing over the heads of those who are doing it properly? Our borders are protected by Australia’s hard-line policy.

        • McFlock

          Our borders are protected by 2000km of ocean.

          Also, please provide evidence that you have ever empathized even with refugees who “are doing it properly” before we bother trying to explain basic humanity to you.

          • Steve Wrathall

            Rubbish, oceans have been able to be crossed for centuries. Stopping anyone who wants to landing requires force. I am “empathizing” with people who immigrate properly by not allowing others to queue-jump over them, not that I need to prove anything to plaster saints whose advocacy of throwing the doors open would give us Europe’s disaster.

            • maui

              I take it your ancestors weren’t part of the large number of queue jumpers who came here in the 1800s?

              • john

                Generally, as per the written history…they paid to get in.

                • maui

                  Isn’t that what the so called queue jumpers north of aussie and also the syrian refugees do? You don’t get put on a boat or a truck for free.

                  • McFlock


                    but the tories aren’t the ones being paid off, so all those payments are wrong

                    • maui

                      Yeah or third world money that isn’t in white men’s hands is just considered monopoly money…

            • McFlock

              Ok, so if crossing the Tasman is trivial and NZ is such a soft touch, why do fuck-all if any boats try? They can simply go in an arc to the north and avoid the Australian patrols. Oceans have been crossed for centuries, so it wouldn’t be a problem at all, according to you. Although I’d be surprised if you had the balls to make the trip yourself.

              Basically, you’re full of shit and your professed empathy for refugees in camps is simply the last thin veil that covers your complete lack of consideration for anyone other than yourself.

              • Steve Wrathall

                NZ is not a soft touch. But is would be if your wise council was followed. Thereby bringing about the chaotic mess we’re seeing in Europe.

                • McFlock

                  pfft. We’re still softer than Aus. So why is it Aus with the “problem”?

                  Answer: more ocean.

  5. john 5

    Simple solution:
    If you don’t want to be treated like an invading army……………..
    It is NOT compulsory or inevitable that you get in a boat (however you do that, pay or not) and risk the life of you and your family (child abuse) and try and force your way into someone else’s country, expecting them to save you when you get into difficulties.
    If your neighbour had a flood in their bathroom, would you find it acceptable to come home, to find they had broken into your house and were taking a shower in YOUR bathroom??
    Same thing.

    • McFlock 5.1

      Yes. Being bombed, starved, or shot is perfectly analogous to a busted cold tap. /sarc

      • john 5.1.1

        Is being stupid and missing the point deliberately, an occupation with you?
        A skill you learned or were you born with it?

        • McFlock

          If you feel you you have been consistently misrepresented, maybe you should try to express better points more clearly.

          Nobody is treating refugees like an invading army.
          Invading armies have rights under the Geneva convention. E.g. after taking them prisoner, you’re not allowed to abandon them in the ocean with half a tank of petrol. You have to provide them medical assistance. You’re supposed to keep them safe in PoW camps, rather than leaving them to be raped in said camp. They’re supposed to be allowed contact wit the red cross. etc, etc, etc.

          You seem to miss the point that these people still find those risks to be preferable than the alternative of staying where they are. So yeah, a certain amount of duress does seem to be implied.

          • tracey

            In John’s world (based on his comments here and on the other thread this week) everyone is to be considered a liar and/or a thief. Except people like Slater and any member of the National or ACT party.

        • crashcart

          In no way does anything you have said allow for breaking of international law.

          SOLAS is an international regulation that even the military is required to obey. It says that you are to assist any ship at sea if it is in distress and you are not to abandon anyone in international waters. If what has been said is true then the law has been broken.

          Are you the type of guy who thinks its OK to break the law if it suits you?

    • Wainwright 5.2

      Dead toddlers on the beaches of Greece aren’t anything like an invading army. Shame on you for making excuses for mistreating people who are fleeing horrors.

      • john 5.2.1

        no they aren’t they were put there by their parents. Their parents killed them.

        • Wainwright

          No one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.

          • dukeofurl

            Toddlers are injured all the time in the care of their parents. Its mostly because they have little knowledge of the risks.
            I see parents in front seats of cars holding the their infants. Their belief is that they can ‘hold on’ in an accident, which is of course wrong.
            Regarding the sea , a lot of people in Middle east may have never seen the sea, and are unaware of the dangers. They arent bought up like Kiwis who are mostly a short distance from the sea and have some experience. Even then many here still have liitle experience in a boat of any kind, which leads to our high drowning rate.
            Saying something like the sea is safer means you too have no idea of the risks

            • Wainwright

              I reckon parents in the Middle East know a hell of a lot more about the dangers they face than you. They don’t think they’re going for a wee paddle in the sunshine. But don’t let me stop you and john going around shitting on refugees to make yourselves feel superior.

              • dukeofurl

                Your blithe comments about the sea safer than land just show your ignorance about the sea.
                As though you sitting in a smug little world can speak for refugees is laughable. But go ahead lash out at others, will get you nowhere- but then you would be used to that!

        • crashcart

          Do you support countries breaking international law?

    • tracey 5.3

      “If your neighbour had a flood in their bathroom, would you find it acceptable to come home, to find they had broken into your house and were taking a shower in YOUR bathroom??
      Same thing.”


      Have you read the Dixon decision yet?

  6. tracey 6

    RNZ on morning report this week replayed its questions to John Key about hwat he knew. He seemed quite clear that his “office” didnt have any information. Thereafter they focused on Australia’s behaviour…

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