Acts such as those of The Good Samaritan are not evident in our treatment of asylum seekers.

Acts such as those of The Good Samaritan are not evident in our treatment of asylum seekers. Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti

A TRAVELLER was on his way to Jericho from Jerusalem when he was attacked, stripped of his clothes, beaten and left half dead.

A priest walking along the road saw him but passed by on the other side. So too did a respectable citizen.

But a Samaritan took pity on the victim, bandaging the man's wounds and bringing him to an inn where he could be taken care of.

Being a good and faithful Christian, as he repeatedly told us in his climb to the top of the political ladder, Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison will, I'm sure, recognise this story as Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

But if we were to find a role for Morrison in this story, we would have to create an individual who seeks help to roll the victim into a ditch, hopefully out of sight and out of mind. That's what Morrison is doing with battered refugees.

Clearly his faith is of a different sort to the standard in the parable. Asked directly about his Christianity in 2011 he said the Judeo-Christian world had contributed to the creation of liberal democracies but "the Bible is not a policy handbook".

"I think there are important moral and righteous sort of issues that are highlighted," he told Julia Baird on the ABC. "There are important justice issues which are highlighted; there are important compassion issues that are highlighted; and you've got to keep all those in balance. And if you tend to favour just one of those and claim those as the, you know, the sole word on everything, then I think you can get yourself in a bit of strife."

The strife Morrison must deal with is boat people.

Compassion is clearly not foremost in his mind.

But justice doesn't get much of a look in either and liberal/democratic values are all but forgotten. Political populism is what counts.

As more and more insiders' accounts of the mistreatment of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island emerge, it's worth asking: who will be held to account?

Primary responsibility must be sheeted home to those at the top: Morrison, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and before that the Labor administrations of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and John Howard's Coalition government.

But public servants and private contractors are also responsible.

As the professor of health economics at Curtin University put it some years back, how would they respond to their grandchildren when asked: "Grandma/grandpa, what did you do when the government was locking up innocent people?"

It would be no excuse to say: "I didn't know it was going on." Numerous media reports, including staff speaking to the ABC and SBS in recent weeks, have drawn attention to the cruel and inhumane treatment. Thanks to them we have learnt that leaving asylum seekers in limbo, with no indication of when their claims might be processed, or where they might be resettled, is standard procedure. This is surely as cruel a treatment as physical abuse.

The handbook public servants have to abide by is not the Bible, but the Public Service Act and its associated Code of Conduct.

The act says public servants must demonstrate leadership, be trustworthy and act with integrity, in all that they do. They are required to respect all people, including their rights and their heritage.

The Code of Conduct tells us that the Australian Public Service has the highest ethical standard. When acting in the course of their employment, public servants must treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment. They must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS values and the integrity and good reputation of the service, and while on duty overseas must at all times behave in a way that upholds the good reputation of Australia.

There is no way that the refugees on Manus and Nauru are being treated with respect, courtesy and without harassment. Their treatment does not uphold the good reputation of Australia.

Such failures by the Immigration Department are not new.

The department was heavily criticised in 2005 by former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer after his investigation into the detention of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon.

"There is a serious cultural problem within [the department's] immigration compliance and detention areas: urgent reform is necessary," he said. Today, lines of responsibility have been tangled by transfer of asylum seekers to other countries and the employment of contractors to manage detention centres.

The Manus Island violence of February 16-18 is the subject of three investigations, the first by former secretary of the Attorney-General's Department Robert Cornall on behalf of the Immigration Department, the second a PNG police investigation, and the third a coronial inquiry. On top of that a Senate committee will look into the incident.

The best we can hope from the first three investigations are specific findings on who was responsible for the immediate violence.

Cornall, for example, is hardly likely to critically report on Immigration Department processes and procedures, which may have provoked the trouble, or the actions of the minister and the government.

The Senate committee will try to look at such things, but has neither the authority nor the resources to carry out the task. Only a royal commission can do a proper job.