NZ has a chance to take a stand over Australia's alleged maltreatment of asylum seekers

There's a showdown looming between New Zealand and Australia.

No ... not THAT one.

Sunday's All Blacks versus Wallabies clash centres on a healthy, old rivalry.

A more complex conflict is facing the Government: whether to back Australia's bid to join the UN Human Right's Council.

New Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull made much of the bilateral "mateship" during his brief Auckland visit last month.

But representations from John Key about the treatment of Kiwis in offshore detention centres fell on his deaf ears.

Now, a new report from Amnesty International appears to confirm allegations that Australian border officials paid people smugglers almost $50,000 to turn their boat back to Indonesia.

The vessel was bound for New Zealand. Most concerning are clear human rights violations raised by the Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Burmese passengers.

Left overnight in the elements during a heavy storm, they say they were offered a chance to bathe on an Australian naval ship. Instead, they were crammed 25 to a cell, the air-conditioning was turned off and vital medicines - such as inhalers and blood pressure tablets - were inexplicably confiscated.

A pregnant woman was left in pain. Another woman repeatedly fainted, hitting her head on one occasion.

After several days they were sent packing, with an egg and an apple each, in two ill-equipped boats that had insufficient fuel reserves.

Their hands were bound - from behind if they were un-co-operative - and they were injected with something that they said made them sleep. - Amnesty International report

It was a miracle no-one drowned - after one ship was abandoned the second stranded on a reef. Among the passengers were two seven-year-olds and a one-year-old.

Deeper into the report there are even more disturbing claims, which indicate a widespread pattern of abuse.

Amnesty's researchers have documented five separate incidents that took place over the last two years. In three cases, passengers experienced or witnessed abuse.

One harrowing account, complied in Jakarta, tells of how passengers threw themselves overboard, but were returned to the boat. Their hands were bound - from behind if they were unco-operative - and "they were injected with something that they said made them sleep."

In January 2014, a Somali teenager watched similar scenes. When passengers, out of their wits after so long at sea, began leaping into the sea, border officials used pepper spray.

Another passenger says Navy personnel threatened to break legs and those who refused to be photographed were pepper-sprayed.

As the report was delivered, ex-PM Tony Abbott was recommending a hard-line approach to turning migrants away from Europe. One member of the British audience reportedly described the speech as "fascistic".

This all comes amid numerous revelations about conditions in Australia's shameful offshore detention centres. Manus and Nauru - both legally Australia's responsibility - have seen riots, child sex abuse allegations, poor health care and violence.

Amnesty International says it has video proof that Australian authorities bribed people smugglers to turn a NZ-bound boat back towards Indonesia. Source: 1 NEWS

Christmas Island is a temporary home to dozens of Kiwis awaiting deportation under a tough new anti-terrorism policy. After a visit, Labour's Kelvin Davis described it as a "cesspit of misery."

Australia's push for a seat in 2018 has been ill-fated. As foreign minister Julie Bishop began lobbying in New York last month, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights issued a statement condemning Australia's record.

Francois Crepeau postponed his visit to detention centres over threatened reprisals against those who spoke to him.

So, what can New Zealand do? As Australia's closest neighbour - and regional foreign policy partner - speaking out about inhumane and cruel refugee policies would send a powerful message to the rest of the world.

As a temporary member of the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister Murray McCully has pulled no punches on sticky issues, like reform of the organisation, Russia, and Israel/Palestine.

So, to ignore issues in New Zealand's backyard, would be a disappointing end to New Zealand's UNSC tenure.

Andrea Vance ONE Voice
Andrea Vance ONE Voice Source: 1 NEWS