Gillard denies people smuggler payments at sea

Gillard denies people smuggler payments at sea AAP Source: Gillard denies people smuggler payments at sea AAP

Former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard says her government did not make payments to people smugglers at sea.  

Her comments come as Prime Minister Tony Abbott refuses to confirm or deny reports that Australian officials paid Indonesian people smugglers to turn back an asylum seeker boat last month.

A report in the Australian newspaper says Labor and the Coalition are believed to have made the covert payments in government.

It also says Labor made them on land in Indonesia, to prevent boats leaving for Australia.

In a BBC interview, Ms Gillard emphasised that when Labor was last in government, it took a different policy position to the Coalition on asylum seekers.

"We didn't have the same policy about turning boats around. So, no-Labor did not operate the policy that it is now asserted- I don't know for sure, it's all media reporting that you're relying on".

Ms Gillard declined to give her personal position on the current allegations facing the Abbott government.

However she concedes Labor did put unspecified measures in place to disrupt people-smuggling operations.

"We worked to try and prevent people smuggling. This is an issue in Australian domestic political debate.. (Host: It's a huge issue)..and one of the things I've tried to do since leaving politics is not get myself in the middle of contemporary issues. I'm going to have to on some of this, refer you to my current Labor colleagues."

Labor's current immigration spokesman Richard Marles says it would be surprising if Australian authorities don't occasionally pay for intelligence information on asylum seeker boats.

But he says this is a different approach to paying people smugglers to turn around.

"Police agencies and intelligence agencies around the world would pay informants to infiltrate, to undermine and to disrupt the activities of criminal syndicates and they should. That is very different to paying the criminal syndicate to undertake a certain action. The allegation that we had last week is the equivalent of paying drug dealers not to make ice, it's the equivalent of paying murderers not to go out and murder."

The Australian Greens are calling for a Senate inquiry into the alleged payments to the people smugglers.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has unsuccessfully pushed for the Coalition to release documents revealing whether the payments were made.

The government has argued the release of such documents could jeopardise national security.

But Senator Hanson-Young has told Sky News, that's just a convenient political excuse for the government.

"I don't accept for a second that this is about national security. This is about the security of the government. This is about Tony Abbott's security. I don't think it's about national security. They've set the rules from day one, the Abbott Government. They didn't want to talk about what they were doing on the high seas. It's never been put before that that had to be the case. This operation secret boats has been going on for nearly two years and we now find out we're spending taxpayer money to bribe people smugglers."

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