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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.

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The Abbott government's secretive strategy to combat asylum seeker boats will come under its closest scrutiny yet, with a Senate inquiry convening on Friday to interrogate top military officials.

The high-powered Senate hearing, led by Greens senator Penny Wright and Labor senator Joseph Ludwig, will examine Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's claim that he would hurt Australia's "public interest" by revealing information about "on-water" asylum seeker operations.

Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell will front the Senate inquiry on Friday.

Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell will front the Senate inquiry on Friday. Photo: Andrew Meares

The head of Mr Morrison's military-led Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, will appear before the Senate inquiry on Friday, alongside Defence chief General David Hurley, Immigration Department secretary Martin Bowles, chief executive of Australian Customs and Border Protection Michael Pezzullo and clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing.

Coalition senator Michaelia Cash has been called to appear to represent Mr Morrison at the hearing but is yet to agree to appear before the committee.

The inquiry will look into Mr Morrison's claim of "public interest immunity" from requests to tell the the public what the navy is doing with asylum seeker boats on the high seas.

Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley says Australian soldiers are being investigated over the alleged mutilation of an Afghan insurgent killed in an operation in April.

Defence chief General David Hurley will also appear. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Senators will also examine the Abbott government's tow 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 spokesperson 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.

"Public acknowledgement of our techniques and procedures has the very real potential to place responders, as well as passengers and crew, in danger," Mr Bowles added.

"This approach is designed to balance the public's right to know with the safety of all involved."

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