Inside Story

Australia: Paying off people smugglers?

Latest controversy pushes prime minister’s hardline policy on asylum seekers back in the spotlight.

Australia has been criticised for its hardline policy towards migrants and asylum seekers and for holding many heading to the country by boat in offshore detention centres.

It faced further condemnation from rights groups this month for paying Cambodia millions of dollars to take refugees of its hands.

Tony Abbott, the prime minister, is refusing to confirm or deny reports that navy commanders bribed the crew of a boat with 65 asylum seekers on board to turn back to Indonesia.

What he did say was: “We will do whatever we reasonably can consistent with the principles of a decent and human society to ensure that the boats stay stopped and I am never ever going to apologise for stopping the boats because frankly that was absolutely necessary after the former government created a disaster on our borders.”

So, can Australia justify its zero tolerance policy of keeping asylum seekers away from its shores?

And where does it stand under international law?

Presenter: David Foster


Elaine Pearson – Australia director for Human Rights Watch.

Daniel Webb – Director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Melbourne, and one of the lawyers leading a High Court challenge to Australia’s offshore detention centres.