Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is “absolutely no evidence” to back up claims Australian sailors mistreated asylum seekers during a boat tow-back operation.
Indonesian police are investigating after the ABC aired footage of asylum seekers receiving medical treatment for burns they allege were inflicted when they were forced to hold onto hot engine pipes during a boat tow-back operation to Rote Island.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying people smugglers had reason to fabricate them to undermine Australia’s border protection policies, and his comments were backed up by Mr Abbott in Switzerland.
“There’s absolutely no evidence for them,” said Mr Abbott, in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
“These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up.
“I fully support the statement of the minister on this subject and I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia’s naval and customs personnel, who I commend for a magnificent job. A job which is increasingly effective and successful.”
Asked if the aired footage constituted as evidence, Mr Abbott said: “Who do you believe?
“Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who were attempting to break Australian law? I believe Australian naval personnel.”
Okto George Riwu, a spokesman for Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara provincial police, said earlier officers were looking into the allegations but did not yet have evidence to back up the allegations.
Mr Abbott said the claims would not impact upon Australia’s longstanding policy of turning back asylum-seeker boats “when it’s safe to do so”.
The prime minister’s comments came after he moved to ease tensions with Indonesia on Tuesday by declaring it was Australia’s “most important single relationship”.
However, in the wake of the naval infringement controversy, Mr Abbott said Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono must understand border control was a matter of sovereignty for Australia.
Australian Customs and Defence have started a review into the entry of Australian vessels into Indonesian waters after the incursions reignited tensions between the nations.