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Uhhh... Is The Australian Government Paying People Smugglers Now?

Tony Abbott has refused to confirm if authorities had paid to turn back an asylum seeker boat.

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The prime minister was interviewed on 3AW Melbourne this morning, and did not deny claims that Australian officials had bribed people smugglers to turn back an asylum seeker boat.

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The Indonesian government is investigating claims that Australian customs officials paid the crew on an asylum seeker boat $5000 each to return a boat to Indonesia last month.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop and immigration minister Peter Dutton both denied the claims but when Tony Abbott was asked directly about the matter this morning, he didn't confirm that it had taken place but certainly did not not rule it out.

"We don't comment on operational matters. We are determined to ensure illegal boats don't get to Australia," Tony Abbott said.

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"We will do whatever is reasonably necessary to protect our country from people smuggling and from the effect of this evil and damaging trade that cost lives," he said.

"But surely we wouldn't pay people smugglers, they are criminals?" asked host Neil Mitchell.

"What we do is we stop the boats by hook or by crook. That's what we've got to do and that's what we've successfully done. I don't want to go into how it's done," the prime minister replied.

The Indonesian government has promised to investigate the allegations, that it describes as shocking.

"We will investigate further," foreign ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters.

"If it is true, it's very concerning that a government official gave money to people smugglers to push back the boat to the middle of the sea," he said.

The Jakarta Post reports the boat was carrying 65 asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. They landed on Rote island in eastern Indonesia in late May, after they were intercepted on their way to New Zealand by the Australian navy.

The boat's captain and crew are currently being detained by Indonesian authorities.

A local police chief investigating the incident told AFP "I saw the money with my own eyes. This is the first time I'd heard Australian authorities making payments to boat crew," he said.

The Greens say if the allegations are true, the government has participated in people trafficking. They say Tony Abbott should provide a straight answer to the allegations.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

"The public has a right to know if the Abbott government has participated in people smuggling or not," said Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young.

"The Prime Minister has all but admitted that the Government is prepared to do anything out on the high seas, even it seems if that means breaking the law or participating in people trafficking.

"The Government either condones this behaviour or it doesn't. The fact that the Prime Minister and his minister can't provide a straight answer speaks volumes."