Calls for transparency in Manus Island riot
Scott Morrison must be "up front" about Manus Island, says Labor treasurer Chris Bowen, as Greens' Sarah Hanson-Young accuses the immigration minister of "desperate cover-ups" over the deadly incident.PT0M58S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-33a0f 620 349 February 23, 2014
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he was told during the day on Saturday that he had misinformed the public about violence that occurred inside the Manus Island detention centre.
Fronting a hastily convened press conference in Sydney on Sunday, Mr Morrison reiterated that he had been wrong to assure the Australian public on Tuesday that violent riots - that led to a death of an asylum seeker on Monday night - had occurred outside the Manus Island detention centre.
In a statement issued on Saturday night, Mr Morrison admitted that much of the information he had given to the Australian public since Monday's riot was now in doubt.
Mr Morrison said on Sunday that his initial information was that the violence had taken place outside the detention centre.
"It was important to brief on the issue as early as possible as there had been a tragic death," Mr Morrison said.
During the week, Mr Morrison had claimed that the 23-year-old Iranian man killed on Monday night, Reza Berati, had been outside the centre when he died.
"This is a tragedy, but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk," the minister said on Tuesday.
But in the Saturday night statement, Mr Morrison said he had new information that cast further doubt on that claim.
The minister's press conference was quickly followed by a statement from the company that runs the Manus detention centre, G4S, which said it would review its original account of the riot because "new information [had come] to hand".
"G4S will take the strongest disciplinary action against any employee found to have been involved in any wrongdoing against any person in our care," the company said.
Mr Morrison had said G4S staff would be investigated as part of an independent review he commissioned into the incident would look at the service provider's actions.
"When transferees engage in riotous and aggressive behaviour in the centre this will escalate the risk to everyone," he said.
"However, in such circumstances service providers must conduct themselves lawfully."
Mr Morrison admitted on Sunday that information was "rarely perfect" immediately after an event. He added that he had tried to update the public as information became available.
But he declined to say whether G4S had provided his office with information that suggested the incident had taken place outside the centre.
"I'm not going into the source," he said.
"The information was provided in good faith."
Mr Morrison also did not explain why it took until Saturday night to confirm conclusively that Mr Berati had died inside the centre.
"As time goes on the picture becomes clearer," he said.
He declined to comment on whether he believed that Mr Berati was necessarily behaving in a "riotous" manner, or the behaviour of G4S staff at the time of the incident.
"I'm not going to speculate," he said.
Mr Morrison said these questions would be determined by an independent review and police investigation.
Mr Morrison said Mr Berati's body was in the process of being sent to Port Moresby and would undergo an autopsy.
Mr Morrison said he had faith in the PNG justice system and would not comment on whether it was appropriate to have allowed G4S guards to watch over Mr Berati's body despite also potentially being subjects of an investigation.
"These centres by definition will always be tense places because people don't want to be there," he said.Mr Morrison said the government was in control of the Manus Island centre.
"The centre is under control as we speak right now," he said. "Within hours of this incident taking place, the centre resumed operations."
Mr Morrison also quashed reports the government was considering closing the PNG detention centre.
"The Manus Island processing centre will remain under this government," he said.
When asked about whether Australia's international standing had been damaged by images of the riot and disorder, he said: "I have a very clear task and that is to stop the people smuggling trade coming to Australia," he said.
"[Asylum seeker deaths at sea] were as tragic as the death I had to report earlier this week."
Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles attacked Mr Morrison for releasing the information in the "dead of night" about 9pm on Saturday, after the Sunday newspapers had been sent to the printers.
Mr Morrison denied he had done this deliberately, saying he had spent some time on Saturday confirming the information before he dispatched his press release last night.
But Mr Morrison said the Abbott government would not be "intimidated" into shuttering the Manus Island detention centre, despite suggestions that the security agency in charge of the centre had lost control of the detainees.
A spokesman for G4S flatly denied to News Corp Australia on Thursday that its staff were involved in the riot, saying: "G4S was not involved in any violence with detainees."
Fairfax Media was unable to contact G4S on Saturday night, but it appears communication is less than perfect between the government and the security company.
Fairfax Media heard a voicemail message on Sunday in which a G4S spokesman asked a Guardian Australia journalist if he could send him a copy of the statement Mr Morrison "has allegedly made".
On Friday, Mr Morrison said the security company would be off the island within a week, when its contract expired.
Transfield, which runs operations on Nauru, will take over security on the island.
The conduct of staff on the night will be investigated as part of the review ordered by Mr Morrison, as well as that of others within the detention centre compound that night.
The Greens have called for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to sack Mr Morrison and close the Manus Island detention centre immediately.
"Tony Abbott had a direct line of duty of care to Reza Berati and he is now dead," Greens Leader Christine Milne said.
"He must take personal responsibility. Blaming the victims of this tragedy is cowardice."
Senator Milne repeatedly asserted that the asylum seeker's death was "murder", but could not say what evidence she had to support her assertion.