Only on rare occasions does Australia’s government-owned public broadcaster, the ABC, get together with journalists from Fairfax Media to work collectively on a story. But this week they did just that and emerged with an insightful and unprecedented look at a people smuggler who belongs in jail.
In a video shot by an Afghan Asylum seeker, former Indonesian police officer Freddy Ambon is shown directing his cargo to their boats. Ambon boasts about his ties to the Indonesian police and how officers happily, and for a fee, ensure passengers are escorted into international waters and onto Australia.
In Jakarta a marina was used to ferry people to the Indonesian island of Labuan and Ambon clearly states: “It’s guarded by police, my police, my men.” From they are ferried to Christmas Island.
His wife is seen smiling and chatting about the family business, which could have been a travel agent, a corner shop or a used car lot. Ambon also talks about arranging a vessel to Christmas Island which sank last year with 96 lives lost. He refers to his passengers as goats.
"I will take care of the boat, the engine, get it overhauled, everything; get the fuel loaded, OK, the supplies loaded, OK then the goats go. That's it," Ambon says.
According to Ambon, his syndicate is run by a Pakistani, Javed Mehmud Bhat (aka Billu), but he left no doubt about who was the operations manager.
“He’s the boss. He’s the owner and I was the one who ran the business,” Ambon says. “Without me he could do nothing.”
Police in Jakarta have denied any involvement.
The story broke as another Indonesian man was deported from Australia after pleading guilty of people smuggling in a Canberra Supreme Court.
Toni Kaubulan, 53, was one of three crewmen who delivered 25 asylum seekers to Australia in a leaky fishing boat in June last year. He told the court how he was paid $640 but had only succeeded in leaving behind seven hungry children and an angry wife.
Chief Justice Terence Higgins noted, "… organisers make large profits but the crew and indeed the passengers they obviously regard as expendable."
He also told Kaubulan that he should be ashamed of his actions and sentenced him to one year and nine months in jail. However, he was released into the custody of immigration after time already served was taken into account. He will be deported and has promised to warn others about the perils of people smuggling.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.