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Media vultures circling Immigration Minister Scott Morrison are blind to facts

How quickly vultures in politics gather around. Just a whiff of injury and in they come, hoping for a carcass on which they can feed.

So it was with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's reporting on the recent riot at Manus Island and the death of a detainee. Morrison initially reported that the detainee who lost his life was outside the centre at the time of his injury.

Looking at the media generally, you could be forgiven for thinking that some time later Morrison found this information to be incorrect and simply waited until late on the following Saturday to correct the record.

This type of reporting is designed to convey an indifference by the minister to a death in detention. It is also designed to convey a trickiness on his part in the sense that releasing something at 9pm on a Saturday might limit the coverage the next day.

The trouble is that this type of reporting is a story looking, or hoping, for facts to back it up. Actually that might be a little generous to a few reporters because, for it to be true, they would need to have ignored the detail in Morrison's media briefings. Sadly, to be more precise, it is a story that ignores some important facts because they are inconvenient to a good ''let's bash the Immigration Minister'' story.

The media have tried to cast Morrison as the villain ever since he decided to give weekly briefings on boat arrivals. It was a sensible decision to cut off day-to-day information from the people-smuggler networks. We are, of course, entitled to know what our government is doing. But we do not need to know every detail on a 24/7 basis. The media understandably want every little titbit of information to feed the voracious appetite of 24/7 reporting. But their annoyance at what they characterise as Morrison's decision to exclude them does not excuse sloppy or malevolent reporting.

Morrison immediately recognised that the riot at Manus Island with the death of a detainee was a different situation. Given the gravity of the circumstance, he properly decided that this should not wait for the normal weekly briefing. He held a media conference in Darwin. He also briefed the opposition. His initial advice was that the deceased person was not in the compound at the time of his injury. He told the media. Was he meant to keep it secret? It was the advice he had at the time.

It is true that he didn't preface the sentence about the detainee with the words ''I am advised''. But he did go on and say this: ''What the government will be doing today and over the course of the days that follow is we'll be updating information as it becomes available to us and we can confirm that information.''

He then held another media conference in Canberra later the same day. The issue of the location of the deceased person at the time he was injured was canvassed directly. Two comments of the minister stand out.

First: ''In terms of the man who died, he had a head injury and at this stage it is not possible to give any further detail on that, including now, based on subsequent reports, where this may have taken place.''

And then: ''I am saying that there are conflicting reports and when I have a full picture on where the individual might have been, but that could be some time to determine because we anticipate that would be the subject of a police investigation.''

Clearly on the same day he made a number of references to updating information and specifically clarified that there were now conflicting reports as to the location of the deceased at the time of his injury. Let me repeat, on the same day.

Subsequently, I am told late on the following Saturday, Morrison was able to say that the detainee had in fact been inside the compound at the time of his injury. He released the information to the media. They now portray this as trying to avoid scrutiny. Would he have done better to wait until Sunday morning? No doubt if he had, the media would be screaming that he had kept a material fact from them unnecessarily.

On calm reflection, the media claim of trying to avoid scrutiny by releasing information late on a Saturday doesn't stack up well. The information was in the Sunday papers, albeit without much if any commentary due to time constraints. That is what annoyed them, that they couldn't add their commentary. They had all of Sunday and beyond to do that - and did.

It will be some time before we get the full story on what actually happened. Being among and dealing with a riot is not like catching the bus to work. Things move fast. People will have been in different positions at different times and accounts will vary. There will be reports from immigration staff, contractors, PNG authorities, detainees and maybe civilians. With a death involved, perhaps not everyone will feel it is in their interest to be fully frank. We will have to wait some time.

By all accounts Morrison has faced the media much, much sooner than previous Labor ministers after riots at detention facilities. Strange that comparison gets little coverage.

Perhaps some in the media just can't stand the fact that the government's policies are bearing fruit. Quite a few media commentators refused to accept that Labor's dismantling of the strong border protection policies of the Howard government opened the floodgates. Labor spun out the line that the increased boat arrivals were due to ''push'' factors. It was garbage. It was a cruel hoax. Now, with strong policies, a strong minister and a government with some gumption, everyone can see the truth.

How many journalists let Labor run that stupid, pathetic excuse? Do they now feel guilty, or at least complicit in one of the greatest hoaxes a government has ever tried on?

Amanda Vanstone is a columnist for The Age and was immigration minister in the Howard government.

361 comments

  • Its a very valid and good article and agree with what Amanda is saying..cut Morrison some slack he is doing a good job

    Commenter
    jd
    Date and time
    March 03, 2014, 6:56AM
    • Yes the boats have stopped. Soon when the backlog is processed, we can turn our detention centers into refugee resettlement hubs. Refugees rather than Asylum seekers.

      Commenter
      Kingstondude
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 7:37AM
    • Thats the problem the luvvies don't want the problem solved, well not until they get their beloved 'open borders' policy accepted, which unfortunately the majority of Australians don't want.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 7:41AM
    • An invalid and blatant attempt to defend the indefensible.

      An ongoing battle to make respectable her heartless performance when she ran the department.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 7:43AM
    • How do you know Morrison is doing a good job when all the information is kept secret. It seems the right wing brigade promotes that Australia keep the asylum seekers out at any costs. Not just economically (as we spend Billions) but socially and internationally we are looking like a bunch of red necks.

      Commenter
      WRE
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 7:57AM
    • Clearly Morrison is doing an outstanding job and the policies are working. Labor's angle in attacking Morrison in Question Time last week focussed on whether he could have released his Saturday media statement a few hours earlier. It was a pathetic response from Labor, who have lost all credibility on refugee matters.

      Commenter
      Flanders
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 7:58AM
    • She knows something and she knows that there's an outside chance that the free press will find it if they keep digging so she's deflecting with everything they've got in their hyper right wing armoury

      What she doesn't seem to understand is that the deflection trick is losing it's insidious power

      Commenter
      havasay
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 8:11AM
    • SteveH "Thats the problem the luvvies don't want the problem solved, well not until they get their beloved 'open borders' policy accepted, which unfortunately the majority of Australians don't want."

      Actually, it is you haties that don't want the problem solved. We luvvies don't want open borders and don't call for borders to be opened.

      We luvvies want democracy, press freedom, government accountability and the rule of law - such things are anathema to you haties and frozen hearts.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 8:13AM
    • Flanders - you don't think that Morrison has lost all credibility on refugee matters?

      a. His employees are accused of pushing hands onto hot pipes
      b. His employees are accused of crushing skulls and cutting throats.

      Unbelievable = Incredible in anyone's language.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 8:14AM
    • Poor Scott, $250,000+ a year and he has to do the things he said he would do to get the job. He should take a leaf from the asylum seeker who was beaten to death, or the 66 who were bashed, and be silent. There are no quotes in the media from them. If Scott can't win a debate where the other side can't speak it's his problem. My sympathies are with the family of Reza Berati and the others recovering from their injuries. I also miss the Australia that backed the underdog.

      Commenter
      Bill V
      Date and time
      March 03, 2014, 8:16AM

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