'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 whether he has read the asylum seeker operational documents he has claimed ''public interest immunity'' over.
During a hostile Senate inquiry into the federal government's military-led operations stop asylum seekers reaching Australia on boats, Mr Morrison was repeatedly asked whether he had read the documents he was withholding from the public.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell appear before the Senate committee on Friday. Photo: Andrew Meares
While Mr Morrison avoided the question, Labor Senator Kim Carr asked: ''Have you read the documents? Have you read the documents?''
Mr Morrison would only reply that he was ''aware'' of the documents.
Senator Carr then accused Mr Morrison of not having read the material he was keeping secret from the Australian public.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young quizzes Scott Morrison. Photo: Andrew Meares
Mr Morrison replied that it was a serious allegation but he declined to deny it.
The Immigration Minister has also refused to say how many asylum seeker boats have entered Australian waters in the past month.
Mr Morrison said his policy of stopping the boats was working - and used a figure of "zero arrivals since December 19" to prove his claim. But Mr Morrison stuck to a tight definition of "arrivals" in a Senate inquiry into Operation Sovereign Borders.
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 same period of "zero arrivals", Mr Morrison refused to respond. To do so would be against the public interest, he said.
Mr Morrison also said he cannot reveal what the navy is doing to stop asylum seeker boats on the high seas because it could compromise Australia's international relationships.
Mr Morrison was appearing voluntarily at the Senate hearing, he said, because he wanted to support his colleagues in his border protection policy. Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Defence Chief David Hurley and Customs CEO Michael Pezzullo all attended.
The Greens-Labor dominated Senate committee had taken issue with Mr Morrison's refusal to comply with Senate demands that he release documents revealing "on water" operations.
Mr Morrison has claimed immunity from releasing documents to the Senate. He has done so on "public interest" grounds, but the Senate committee argued the policy of secrecy was not in the national interest.
The Senate committee was designed to determine whether Mr Morrison was within his rights to claim "public interest" as a reason for not releasing information.
Telling the Australian public what was happening on the high seas would "put people at risk who are involved in our operations," Mr Morrison said.
Revealing such information could cause "unnecessary damage to Australia's national security... and international relations," Mr Morrison said.
Secrecy, the minister argued, was a crucial part of the strategy to stop the boats. And the policy was working - which should justify the "discretion", Mr Morrison added.
No asylum seekers have reached Australia by boat since December 19, he said.
Not since six years ago, before the Howard government's Pacific Solution was abolished by Kevin Rudd, had no boats arrived for such a stretch.