The Abbott government’s hardline anti-immigration policy — which involves towing back boats that threaten to enter Australian waters — has always been about “destroying the people smugglers’ business model”.

“We are in a fierce contest with these people smugglers,” the PM said last year, before accusing Labor of wanting to “give the people smugglers their business back” for their opposition to turnbacks.

But a report in the Fairfax papers today exposes the utter hypocrisy of that justification.

According to an Indonesian police chief, crew members on a people-smuggling boat headed for Australia were paid US$5000 each by Australian officials to take the boat back to Indonesia. Asylum seekers on board — from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — backed up these claims.

If the reports are true, far from smashing the business model, the Abbott government has expanded it, and people smugglers have a new and lucrative customer: our own federal government.

$5000 for a few weeks at sea? That’s the kind of wage Joe Hockey would approve of. Plenty of people smugglers will be eager to “have a go” for that.