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Parliament to probe Manus Island riot


Michael Gordon, Sarah Whyte and David Wroe

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Is Manus safe?

Nationals Senator John 'Wacka' Williams says asylum seekers fleeing their home countries should be "grateful" for being on Manus Island.

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Asylum seekers will be invited to give their witness accounts of the recent deadly violence on Manus Island to a parliamentary committee that will free public servants and contractors from confidentiality clauses in their employment contracts.

Having persuaded the Labor Party to back the inquiry, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young will push for it to conduct hearings inside the Australian-run detention centre where more than 60 asylum seekers were injured and one died last month.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's conduct will be reviewed as part of the parliamentary inquiry in the Manus Island ...

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's conduct will be reviewed as part of the parliamentary inquiry in the Manus Island violence. Photo: James Alcock

Detainees have so far spoken, on the promise of anonymity, of local security contractors and others invading the centre and savagely beating and slashing detainees who tried to hide in the bedrooms after a non-violent protest.

Other staff have told Fairfax Media they know the identity of the man who killed Iranian detainee Reza Barati.

''I think it's going to be difficult to run a genuine inquiry unless we get there,'' Senator Hanson-Young said after agreeing with Labor on wide-ranging terms of reference for the probe.

The combined numbers of Labor and the Greens in the Senate ensure the inquiry will go ahead and will be dominated by non-government MPs. It will be chaired by Greens senator Penny Wright.

Under its terms of reference, the inquiry will review the conduct of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, ''before, during and after the incident''.

The inquiry will take evidence in April, after the inquiry set up by the government has concluded, and is expected to call asylum seekers, staff from G4S - the company that has been running the centre - and the Salvation Army, Papua New Guinean police and Australian officials.

Witnesses would have parliamentary privilege to speak openly and not be bound by confidentiality terms in their employment contracts, Senator Hanson-Young said.

''It is very clear that a lot of people who have witnessed what happened and want to speak out, but are scared of their confidentiality agreements and intimidated by the department,'' she told Fairfax Media.

''I spoke to an interpreter today who has been receiving phone calls from the department threatening her if she says anything.''

If the inquiry was refused permission to conduct a hearing within the centre, Senator Hanson-Young said detainees would be able to give evidence by teleconference.

She dismissed the inquiry ordered by Mr Morrison as compromised because it was not arm's-length from government; the government would decide whether its findings were released in their entirety, and there were criticisms of the former public servant leading the inquiry, Robert Cornall.

Mr Cornall investigated allegations of sexual and other serious assaults at the centre last year, concluding claims of detainees being sexually abused, raped and tortured with the full knowledge of staff were not true and that other allegations were exaggerated.

''This inquiry will be the only independent investigation into Reza Barati's death and what happened on Manus Island,'' Senator Hanson-Young said.

Labor's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, backed the inquiry, saying: ''It is vital we get to the bottom of what went wrong on the minister's watch at Manus Island. So far, Mr Morrison has consistently failed to provide an appropriate response to critical questions relating to events between February 16-18."

A spokesman for Mr Morrison said the government's review would ''now benefit from the participation of the government of PNG''.

''In addition, the PNG government has established a police investigation and a coronial inquiry to ensure that any potential breaches of PNG laws are appropriately dealt with through their justice system.''

Manus Island police chief Alex N'Drasal has told Fairfax Media that he expected his investigators would soon arrest more than one suspect in relation to the death of Mr Barati.

''We're still continuing the investigations, but there are indications that we will probably soon arrest someone in relation to that,'' he said.

He said his investigators had the names of ''a few suspects''. He could not give a precise number or say exactly when the arrests would happen.

Mr N'Drasal also stood by previous claims by PNG police that their officers remained outside the detention centre and took no part in the violence.

What the inquiry aims to establish

  • A chronology of events
  • The sequence of events that led to Reza Barati's death
  • The involvement of the Immigration Department
  • How the PNG police, military and civilians were involved
  • Any documents involving staff, employees, contractors and sub-contractors involved
  • Any communications between the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and the PNG government regarding the employment of contractors, sub-contractors and service providers
  • Australia's duty of care obligations and responsibilities
  • Refugee processing and resettlement arrangements in PNG

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  • In accordance with their own precedent I assume all LNP Cabinet documents on their asylum seeker policy will be made available to this inquiry?

    Date and time
    March 05, 2014, 7:13AM
    • Good post rext, but won't happen. The Abbott 'government' will only release documents likely to discredit any opposition to its failed policies, rather than do anything to highlight the truth.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:18AM
    • The Parliamentary review will be a winner for the Greens, but I don't think it will help Labor, regardless of the findings. The majority of Australians want tough border security and any perceived undermining of the policies that are demonstrably working risks alienating voters. Essentially, in regards to Manus Island, the Abbott Government has just continued the policy established by Labor, so presumably the only area Labor can seek to attack the Government is Morrison's initial comments on the riot. Any adverse findings on the actual running of the centre and why the riot took place will likely be a shared policy failure of both major parties.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:25AM
    • Yeh, sure rext.

      A country gal
      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:26AM
    • Maybe its time to reflect that if the Greens did not hold the balance of power in the Senate, this tragedy would have been swept under the carpet.
      Like or loath the Greens, without them we would have no transparency from ALP or LNP.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:31AM
    • @rext - the born-to-rule Coalition will only supply what they think the inquiry need to know. Just in case anyone thinks that's a double standard (in relation to the various Labor witch hunts ... oops, sorry, Royal Commissions), they're born to rule so there is no double standard.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:46AM
    • will we also set up another inquiry on how greens/labour govt let1000 people die in rough seas under Rudd / Gillard /Rudd regime ?

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 8:54AM
    • @bg2. Had it not been for the greens this tragedy would never have happened in the first place. Nor would the tragedy of 1200 people drowning. In their attempt to claim the high moral ground, in association with labor, they caused this problem. Sadly the do not have the morality to take some responsibility. After all tragedies happen, accidents happen, don't they?

      Pragmatic prince
      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 9:53AM
    • Realist, the Greens/ Labor did not " let people die" in rough seas. Our Navy and Customs did as much as possible to save refugees who took unseaworthy boats to try top get to Australia.

      It is a measure of the desperation of the refugees that they accepted the high risk strategy of taking an unseaworthy boat to Australia.

      There was free choice involved when refugees made the decision to try to get to Australia. In the world of electronic communication, mobile phones etc, they knew who made it and who did not and still were desperate enough to take the risk.

      I think it is hard for Australians to understand the desperation and the willingness to take risks in order to find a better life, that living in persecution creates. Australians would never risk their lives or the lives of their families "just" to get a chance to live in a peaceful and just country.

      But these refugees are willing to take the risk, because the alternative is unspeakable. They would rather die than go back into persecution.

      Of course now Australia has made the destination unspeakable - persecution that in some cases borders on the horros that the refugees have left behind.

      Unfortunately it is the measure of regard in which Australians and Australia are held that keep the boats coming.

      Of course they are still coming. They are just being towed back!

      And of course, Realist, we have no way of knowing whether any people have been drowned at sea because of the communication clamp down. We suspect two refugees died near Darwin but that was never confirmed.,it is quite possible that boats have sunk if they were avoiding Australian Navy and Customs vessels.

      Tired of Spin
      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 10:05AM
    • It is true that any Inquiry is going to look bad for both Parties - more power to it, I say. I would like an inquiry into what if any attempts have been made tot forge a genuine regional solution - including accepting and assessing asylum applications at the refugee camps in Indonesia. We can waffle on as long as we like about how absolutely vulgar and corrupt the concentration camps are - but we need to get the discussion going on real alternatives. Enough of the lies and subterfuge permeating this policy area.
      PP, this applies particularly to you, mate.

      Date and time
      March 05, 2014, 10:08AM

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