Written By: Date published: 12:17 pm, June 15th, 2015 – 30 comments
Categories: australian politics, im/migration, International, john key, Minister for International Embarrassment, Politics – Tags: , , ,

It only seems like yesterday that John Key was forced to admit a series of assaults on a young cafe worker. It is now possible that Key has broken the law again. It is a significant offence to conspire to smuggle migrants into New Zealand or another country. The penalty is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 20 years, a fine not exceeding $500,000, or both. Is this what the Prime Minister and/or NZ Government officials have done?

What we know so far is that Australia has just turned away a boat full of asylum seekers from various Asian countries and it is alleged that the ship’s crew were paid US $5000 each to take the victims instead to Indonesia. Aussie PM Tony Abbott is refusing to confirm the payments, but is looking painfully weak on the matter. If it’s confirmed that the money changed hands, this breaches domestic Australian law and international treaties about people smuggling. Normally this would just be an embarrassment for the increasingly beleaguered Liberal leader, but John Key has unintentionally caught himself up in the scandal.

Key has mugged himself by big noting about the slim possibility that the boat in question might have made it to NZ. The PM has been talking for a fortnight about that boat, the ‘danger’ it presented to NZ’s borders and the cooperation of our Government officials with Australia to make sure it did not reach either country. To put it simply, if Key was made aware that the Australian Government intended to or actually made payment to the crew of the boat to convince them to smuggle the asylum seekers into Indonesia instead, then that may be a crime here in New Zealand.

The Crimes Act does not require that would be migrants actually set foot in New Zealand. Even the attempt is a crime. But, importantly, the Act also criminalises smuggling people into other countries, which is what appears to be the case here. Indonesia is justifiably upset at being used as a dumping ground.

Professor of International Law at the Australian National University Don Rothwell has said that under regional protocols such activity could be equate to people smuggling.

“People smuggling is defined with the protocol and to that end the provision of monies to people who are engaged in people smuggling activities to take persons from a place on the high seas to another place, such as Indonesia, is clearly a people smuggling-type activity,” he said.

“If a state such as Australia is making that payment that would be seen as tantamount to people smuggling.”

If you and I conspired to smuggle a boatload of people into Indonesia, we’d probably be in the dock pretty bloody pronto. However, there is an out. Prosecution of people smugglers in NZ can only proceed with the agreement of the Attorney General, Chris Finlayson. A man appointed to that position by, um, Prime Minister John Key.

So, maybe it’s unlikely that Key is going to face justice over this matter, but it does make it more understandable that he was reduced to meaningless gibberish when interviewed on the matter this morning.  Key is scared. And with good reason. Bizarrely, he reckons he can see the reason for paying off the snakeheads. But … “If you start paying them yourselves you’re in a position that you’re paying people we don’t have a high regard for”.

But, no worries, people! According to the PM, the whole thing is a “hypothetical” .

This matter needs to be investigated thoroughly. Payment to criminals is not just possibly illegal, it’s a particularly stupid idea because it’s an encouragement to further smuggling attempts. We don’t know what Key has done or whether it really equates to criminal behaviour, but we should be told.

In Australia, Labor and the Greens have called for an immediate enquiry. Our equivalent parties here should do the same.

Key should be asked to explain himself – what he knew, when he knew it and what he agreed to – in the media and in Parliament. People smuggling is a vicious, exploitative crime. Paying off snakeheads to commit their crimes in other countries is equally vile.


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