Police officers displaying six stacks of $US100 bills during a press conference by Nusa Tenggara Timur police chief Endang Sunjaya at Rote police station in June. Photo: Supplied Jasmine, one of two boats which asylum seekers claim they were transferred onto by n Border Force after being intercepted. Photo: Amnesty International

Cash Indonesia police said was paid to people smugglers.

Push for royal commission into people smuggler cash scandalPeople smuggler cash: boat captain speaksHow events unfolded

Jakarta: A member of President Joko Widodo’s ruling party has called on the Indonesian government to “send a strong protest” after a report found n officials paid people smugglers to return to Indonesia.

Charles Honoris​, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, also renewed calls for to abandon its controversial boat push-back policy and said he hoped the n government would be more transparent under the new Prime Minister.

“Foreign Minister Retno [Marsudi] has demanded an explanation on the June incident but got no response,” said Mr Honoris, a member of Mr Joko’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP).

“The Foreign Minister must demand it again, especially after the release of the Amnesty International report. The Indonesian government must send a strong protest to the n government so that it will not recur in the future.”

The Amnesty International report said n officials who paid people smugglers to return a boat of asylum seekers to Indonesia had committed a transnational crime, put dozens of lives at risk and called for a royal commission into the scandal.

Mr Honoris also proposed a joint investigation into the people smuggling payments between Indonesia and .

“Now there is a new prime minister in we hope the government will be transparent in this particular case. They have to explain what happened and I think it is time for them to abandon the boat push-back policy. I am sure the payment to boat crews – if the Amnesty International report is accurate – is something that is even against n law, let alone international law.”

The n government maintained its defence of Operation Sovereign Borders on Thursday. Asked whether n officials had committed international crimes by paying people smugglers, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that “all of our agencies operate within the law and they operate within the law keeping our borders secure”.

He would not be drawn on whether to establish a new inquiry into the matter, saying the government was satisfied its agencies were operating legally. “We have got a very important role to ensure that we stop people smuggling. People smuggling is a very, very serious crime.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop rejected the report outright. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that people intercepted by the n Border Force and Defence Force were “held lawfully in secure, safe, humane, and appropriate conditions … to suggest otherwise, as Amnesty has done, is to cast a slur on the men and women of the ABF and ADF.”

He told n radio station 2GB the government would not “water down” its policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.

Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles urged the government to immediately say whether the allegations were true: “The n community deserves to be told whether this government has used taxpayer money to pay people smugglers to turn boats around at sea.”

General Endang Sunjaya, the police chief of Nusa Tenggara Timur province who oversaw the investigation into the people smuggler payments, said n officials put the lives of asylum seekers in danger.

He also told Fairfax Media that put Indonesia in a disadvantaged position because it now had to assist and process “abundant numbers of illegal immigrants”.

General Endang said n officials had paid the captain and crew and then returned the asylum seekers in boats that lacked adequate navigational systems and fuel.

“They were turned back with less than minimal safety,” he said.

“It endangered the people and as they approached Landu Island they were stranded and ran out of fuel and food supplies. This is [something that ] needs to be fully aware of – it put the illegal immigrants in danger. and Indonesia need to sit down and thoroughly discuss these issues to ensure no country is put at a disadvantage.”

General Endang said Indonesian police had proved the existence of bribes to people smugglers in June. But he said that while the Amnesty International report had mentioned possible payments to people smugglers on a second boat in July, Nusa Tenggara Timur police had found no evidence of this.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Arrmanatha Nasir, said the government would study the Amnesty International report.

“The Indonesian position is clear that successfully handling irregular migrants takes co-operation and commitment between countries of origin, transit and destination.”

He said Indonesia remained opposed to ‘s boat push-back policy.

The head of n National University’s College of Law, Professor Don Rothwell, said that Indonesia was unlikely to pursue the range of legal options it had on ‘s alleged breaches of international law: “[Indonesia has] been in possession of these facts for a very long period of time now, yet it’s chosen to deal with the matter by diplomatic means.”

Amnesty International said in its report that n officials had breached the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land Sea and Air. Under the protocol, Indonesia could engage in a range of dispute resolutions, but all rely on ‘s co-operation to go ahead, including the option of suing at the International Court of Justice.

International law experts said that more than the current Senate inquiry was needed to deal with the allegations domestically. Sydney University international law Professor Ben Saul backed the report’s recommendation for a royal commission, saying the inquiry did not have the power to deal with classified evidence without prejudicing security operations.

“At least you’d get an independent quasi-judicial scrutiny of what’s going on,” he said. “It could say this is legitimate or make recommendations against the practice but at the moment that can’t happen because a parliamentary inquiry is limited to scrutinising technical matters of the regime without fundamentally questioning the policy premises.”

Professor Rothwell said a royal commission was “premature”, but, given the government had consistently refused to discuss a range of issues raised on asylum seekers and Operation Sovereign Borders, “it is fair to say that even parliamentary inquiries are unable to fully determine the truth of some of these matters”.

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