Immigration Minister Scott Morrison in Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed he knew a week ago his initial statements about a fatal brawl at the immigration detention facility on Manus Island were likely to have been wrong but has refused to say why he waited to correct the record until Saturday night.
Instead he has advised that his own conduct will be subject to an internal review, which will also take in the role of his officers, the private company charged with security at the detention centre, G4S, and Papua New Guinea authorities.
But the move to get to the bottom of what occurred, including by examining the minister’s own actions, did not assuage critics, with the Greens and some Labor backbenchers calling on Mr Morrison to resign or be sacked.
Under attack in Parliament over comments last Tuesday morning which appeared to lay the blame for the violence at the detention centre on rampaging asylum seekers for pushing through the perimeter fence, Mr Morrison revealed he was told later that day that he had been given unreliable information. He said his initial claim that the death and much of the violence had taken place outside the centre was not correct.
As the day progressed he was advised there were alternative versions of what happened, putting in doubt many details. Yet it took five days for the evidence to mount to the point that he deemed it necessary to ”correct the record”.
In Parliament, the opposition demanded to know why the minister had not exercised appropriate caution in his first public statements, and why he had then chosen such a particular time to release the information – Saturday night after television news bulletins and after most newspaper deadlines.
Mr Morrison said information was never perfect in the wake of such incidents.
”Over the course of that week, I conducted five press conferences to update people on what was occurring at that centre,” he said.
”It was a terrible tragedy, what occurred. But the other point I’d make about what occurred on that night is, despite that terrible tragedy, the centre opened the next morning and it continues to operate today.”
The inquiry into the melee would, among other things, examine how the centre was established under the previous government, Mr Morrison said, flagging that Labor’s hasty establishment of the facility would be laid bare.
”It’ll go into the performance of the service contractors that those [members] opposite contracted, it will go into the security arrangements that were put in place and left to the opposition when we formed government.
”It’ll go into all of those and it’ll go into the conduct of myself and those on this side and our handling of these issues since we took over responsibility for these centres.”
But Labor senators Doug Cameron and Sue Lines argued the minister had proved himself unfit for office. ”He definitely has blood on his hands,” Senator Lines said.
”The more he tries to shirk the issue, the more he pretends to be the tough cop on the beat – hopefully the Australian public will see the truth behind this.”