No communication breakdown

Focus, Normal

The National, Tuesday February 25th, 2014

 Immigration minister Scott Morrison has denied a breakdown in communication with detention centre service provider G4S after he was forced to correct earlier statements he made about the Manus Island disturbances.

On Sunday the minister defended the clarification he issued late on Saturday night, which conceded the events – including the death of one asylum seeker – occurred largely within the perimeter compound.

Asked who provided the initial incorrect reports and what steps had been taken to verify them, Morrison said: “You do the normal discussion you have with the people who are reporting to you on that morning and make the usual requests you do in that situation, and as I said they were qualified (and) they’ve been updated … I’m not going into the source of those.”

Morrison said he received the correct information “during the course of yesterday”. In defence of the clarification, the minister said that “information is rarely perfect so soon after the event”.

“This does not rule out incidents having occurred outside the perimeter of the facility, however it is important to have made this clarification.”

Prime minister Tony Abbott was also drawn into the debate on Sunday afternoon and described Morrison as an “outstanding” minister”.

“You don’t want a wimp running border protection, you want someone who is strong, who is decent and Scott Morrison is both strong and decent.”

In a remarkable development, G4S appear to have been unaware of the minister’s press release, despite the fact that it directly contradicts their own release about the events on Manus on February 18 that “a number of transferees were injured after they breached the perimeter fence and the matter became a law enforcement issue for PNG authorities”.

A spokesman for G4S asked Guardian Australia to pass on a copy of the minister’s release on Sunday. 

G4S provided a statement on Sunday that said: “Following new information to hand, G4S’s earlier statement about events at Manus Island are currently under review.

“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 laws of PNG and our strict code of ethics.”

The statement said that G4S would not be commenting further due to the ongoing inquiries into the Manus Island disturbances.

Morrison initially appeared certain about the accuracy of the information he was receiving about the riots, but he has gradually retreated from his original statement.

In Tuesday’s media conference he emphasised the limited protection Australia could offer asylum seekers who had escaped the perimeter compound.

“If people chose to remove themselves from that centre then they are obviously putting themselves at a place of much greater risk and in an environment like that where there is violent behaviour on the part of those who are breaching the perimeter fence and going out of the centre then this is a disorderly environment in which there is always great risk.”

In his second media conference he said he had received “conflicting reports” about the incident and the location of the asylum seeker who was killed.

“Where physically this took place based on the information I have received this afternoon, that is a matter where there are some conflicting reports.”

The Greens leader, Christine Milne, called on Tony Abbott to sack Morrison over his handling of the situation.

“The prime minister must sack the minister and close his cruel refugee prisons immediately,” she said.

The Labor frontbencher and former immigration minister Chris Bowen said on Sunday the developments were “deeply concerning”.

“We’ve had a death, which is a tragedy, and we’ve got a minister who frankly treats the public, the parliament and the media with contempt and drip-feeds out information – and now we see that information is wrong as often as it is right,” Bowen told the ABC on Sunday.

“If he thinks a written statement at 9 o’clock on a Saturday night is being transparent then he is sadly mistaken. He should explain not only what went on here but also when he was told that the information he had previously released was wrong.” –,