'Did you read the documents?'
Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison comes under pressure as he defends withholding documents from the Senate on the grounds of 'public interest immunity'.PT1M28S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31s78 620 349 January 31, 2014
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to say if he had personally read all official documents before classifying them as secret.
Voluntarily appearing before a Senate committee on Friday dominated by Labor and the Greens, Mr Morrison clashed with senators who demanded to know why he had refused a request to produce background documents.
Senators asked how he had assessed border protection documents before deciding they were unsuitable for release to the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee. He declined to answer definitively.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell appear before the Senate committee on Friday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Labor senator Kim Carr accused the minister of making a blanket ruling over the documents. Senators also probed an apparent discrepancy over the definition of asylum seekers as ''illegal maritime arrivals'' or ''IMAs'' after Mr Morrison said there had been ''zero arrivals since December 19''.
An arrival, Mr Morrison said, constituted an asylum seeker being ''transferred into immigration authorities''. But asked how many boats had entered Australian waters during the period of ''zero arrivals'', Mr Morrison refused to respond. To do so, he maintained, would be against the public interest.
Earlier, Mr Morrison had boasted that the government's policies had delivered the first IMA-free calendar month in 58 weeks, and the first January of zero boats since 2006.
An argument ensued as Labor and Greens senators attempted to establish if the zero-IMA claim was sustainable only because the definition of an arrival excluded people aboard vessels turned around on the high seas, even where they had clearly entered Australian territorial waters.
In his evidence to the committee, the military commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, also suggested the release of the documents represented a potential problem in Australia's relationship with Indonesia.
''The documents requested relate to operational matters that I believe should not be disclosed,'' he said.
He used his opening statement to offer the strongest operational justification so far for the high level of secrecy.
He said that because Indonesian people-smugglers operated in direct competition, they did not share what fragments of intelligence they were able to obtain about Australia's border security measures.
This meant that information about the deployment of Australian ships was incomplete, making the task of getting asylum seeker boats through the net, much harder.
Meanwhile, for the first time in almost six weeks an asylum seeker coming to Australia by boat has been taken onto Christmas Island.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, Mr Morrison revealed only that the asylum seeker was suffering from a ''heart condition''.