Can we justify paying people smugglers? The people whose operation we described as a 'vile trade'?
Can we justify paying people smugglers? The people whose operation we described as a 'vile trade'? AP / Australian Maritime Safety Authority

OPINION: Paying people smugglers won't stop 'vile trade'

FOR years now, politicians of both persuasions have told us they want to "stop the boats" of asylum seekers to Australia because they want to save lives.

They want to "break the people-smugglers' business model".

They want to stop this "vile trade".

It has always been presented as a moral argument, rather than one of political expediency, even though the major political contribution to the national discourse has been to give weight to the idea these asylum seekers (many of whom are actually deemed refugees) are a threat to our borders.

And here we are returning to moral arguments again, as the Federal Government (and, by extension,  potentially the previous Labor administration) stands accused of paying six boat crew members up to $US30,000 to turn their boats away from Australian shores and return to Indonesia.


In response to questions about the payments - the legality of which is still being debated - Prime Minister Tony Abbott is now saying the government will do "whatever it takes" to stop the boats, to break the people-smuggling model, to stop the vile trade.

This appears to be a battle he wants to have, because he believes he's on the right side of the argument and he believes the Australian people will side with him.

Maybe they will, but I won't be among them.

Because let's be clear. Although Mr Abbott and his senior ministers will tell you they've stopped the boats, they haven't really finished the sentence.

They haven't stopped the boats - they've just stopped them from reaching Australia.

People are still risking their lives at sea to give their families a better existence, and many of them continue to die.

And they haven't broken the people-smugglers' business model.

Paying them to motor in a different direction actually supports the model, and continues to put vulnerable lives at risk.

The only difference is the asylum seekers are no longer our problem.

You may feel a payment of this nature was worth it, and was money better spent than housing asylum seekers in offshore detention centres (which is a whole other argument).

You may, like the government, agree these people are not our problem.

But personally, I'm tired of all the moralising.

This is a government under pressure that is relying on matters of national security and immigration to keep its head above water, and there is nothing but politics behind this entire discussion.