Morrison rejects mistreatment claims
Claims that naval personnel mistreated asylum seekers, including through misusing pepper spray, are 'completely baseless' according to Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison.PT1M24S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31qdg 620 349 January 31, 2014
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison will appear before a Senate inquiry on Friday, as he continues to defend the federal government's approach towards asylum seeker boats.
Amid three interviews and a doorstop on Friday morning, Mr Morrison confirmed that he would attend the Senate hearing that will scrutinise the government's claim that it does not have to provide regular updates to the Senate about Operation Sovereign Borders.
In an interview on ABC Radio, the Immigration Minister also rejected fresh reports that an asylum seeker had burned his hand during a scuffle with border protection personnel.
The ABC has reported the claims of Somali asylum seeker, Boby Nooris, who says that after he had been sprayed in the eyes, he stumbled and his hand touched the hot engine.
While Mr Morrison confirmed that ''personal defensive equipment'' is used by border protection personnel to deal with ''any non-compliance'', he again rejected any suggestion that asylum seekers had been mistreated, or that Australian personnel had inappropriately used their equipment.
''[This] is completely without substantiation and therefore, I would reject that,'' he said.
''What I can tell you is, that I have total confidence in our navy and border protection service.''
When asked about the ''murkiness'' of information surrounding asylum seeker operations, he replied: ''It's not the government that's making it murky. People are making all sorts of unsubstantiated allegations and claims and reporting those.''
He said that some, but not all, border security operations were video-taped
The Immigration Minister added that the government would not give the Operation Sovereign Borders ''pin number'' – Australian tactics – to people smugglers.
Mr Morrison said that no boats had arrived in Australia since December 19.
''I know for a fact that the way information is being handled in this operation is contributing to its success,'' he said.
It was also suggested in reports on Friday that Mr Morrison had confirmed that the government was turning boats back to Indonesia. He told Sky News that he had confirmed that ''if vessels seek to illegally enter our waters, they'll be stopped''.
Mr Morrison said there was no surprise about this. ''Our policy's always been our policy.''
The Immigration Minister would not say how many boats had been turned back by the new Coalition government, arguing the government would not go into the ''specifics'' of the policy's implementation.
''None shall pass is our objective here,'' he said.
Mr Morrison is due to appear before the Senate committee after 1pm on Friday, along with top military officers and government officials.
He said he was appearing of his own initiative because he wanted to ''stand beside'' those implementing the government's border protection regime.
The commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, will appear, alongside Defence chief General David Hurley, Immigration department head Martin Bowles, Defence department head Dennis Richardson, chief executive of Australian Customs and Border Protection Michael Pezzullo. Clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing will be first to appear at 11.30am.
The inquiry will look into Mr Morrison's claim of "public interest immunity" from requests to tell the public what the navy is doing with asylum seeker boats on the high seas.
Senators will also examine the Abbott government's turn back policy, the recent violations of Indonesian sovereignty and the government's perceived lack of transparency.
Mr Morrison has argued that releasing such information would damage the national interest and potentially harm relationships with Australia's neighbours.
''This inquiry into the government's secrecy is all about the Australian people and their right to know,'' Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
''This is about the power of the Senate versus the arrogance of a government that doesn't want to be held to account.''
In a submission to the Senate inquiry, the Department Secretary, Mr Bowles, highlighted a section of government guidelines to argue Mr Morrison was within his rights not to tell the Australian public what was happening on the high seas.
The disclosure of such information ''could reasonably be expected to cause damage to national security, defence, or international relations,'' Mr Bowles pointed out in his submission.