Weird rumours are always floating around the top end. And they travel fast. The latest wacky one doing the rounds of Maningrida in Arnhem Land this week was that the community’s newly appointed federal intervention Business Manager had gone missing. And that it had something to do with Mohammed Haneef.

But Luke Morrish hadn’t really gone missing. The intervention operation isn’t known for its communication skills, and somehow the message that the new Government Business Manager Morrish had called in sick hadn’t got around. And that might be the end of it if not for the second part of the rumour.

Morrish’s name had appeared in the news twice in the same week, but for very different reasons.

Morrish appeared in a Four Corners story report that aired on November 5 ‘Tracking the Intervention’, as he met with various community and business leaders on his first day in Maningrida as their new Business Manager.

Days before, on November 2, his name had hit the front page of The Australian, as the (now former) AFP police officer who forwarded the contingency plan regarding Haneef to Kevin Andrews’ office back in July. Sometimes the bush telegraph can be half reliable.

For the Four Corners report, reporter Matthew Carney sat in on the first meeting between Morrish, described as the “intervention’s man on the ground” and the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC):

LUKE MORRISH, TASKFORCE BUSINESS MANAGER: I’ve got to say, I’m not going to be able to give you all the answers myself straight away, but when I say I’ll get the answers for you, I’ll get the answers for you. And I can’t run away, I can’t hide, I’m here so I’m going to have to do that.

A BAC spokesperson told Crikey they haven’t seen Morrish since.

The head of the intervention, Major General David Chalmers, explained to Crikey, “Luke suffered chest pains about two weeks ago, he was taken to Darwin hospital, tests were inconclusive… He’s taken leave but providing everything is OK …and he can get adequate medical care in Maningrida…he will be back on Monday… He told the community that [his absence] was due to health concerns.” 

John Horgan, Maningrida CEO and Council Clerk, told Crikey that Morrish had told him his return would be delayed due to health reasons. “He emailed me and said that he had to go to Canberra for medical reasons and he’d be away for no specific time but seemed to be a couple of weeks,” Horgan told Crikey. “I haven’t heard when he’s coming back, I’ve sent a few emails to him but he hasn’t responded…but in any case, he wasn’t due to come back until at least the beginning of this month…” 

And that should be the end of it — a case of miscommunication that has thrown the locals into confusion.

Except for the coincidence that the Luke Morrish who featured on Four Corners seems to be the same Luke Morrish who also featured in The Australian‘s ‘Secret plot to keep Haneef jailed’:

Confidential emails between top AFP agents and a senior public servant advising Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews indicate that there was a secret plan to thwart a decision by a magistrate to release then terror suspect Mohamed Haneef on bail.

…The first email, written by Brisbane-based counter-terrorism co-ordinator David Craig to commanders of the AFP’s counter-terrorism unit at 5.22pm on July 14, states: “Contingencies for containing Mr HANEEF and detaining him under the Migration Act, if it is the case he is granted bail on Monday, are in place as per arrangements today.”

Under the Migration Act, such a contingency necessarily needed to involve Mr Andrews.
This email was forwarded at 8.10am on Monday, July 16, by agent Luke Morrish, the AFP’s Canberra-based acting manager for domestic counter-terrorism, to top Immigration Department public servant Peter White.

Major General Chalmers told Crikey that as far as he knew, Luke Morrish was an AFP officer before he joined the intervention taskforce.

Chalmers also confirmed that at the selection interview Morrish stated his former position as AFP’s Canberra-based acting manager for domestic counter-terrorism. Chalmers also pointed out that he was not aware of any details regarding Morrish’s AFP employment.

The fact that Morrish’s name appeared in the news twice in less than a week could just be an unhappy coincidence for someone who’s just about to start a new and challenging job. Morrish is one of around 35 business managers currently assigned around remote communities throughout the Northern Territory as part of the intervention. 

Crikey contacted Morrish for a comment but he hasn’t returned our call.  

Providing his health is OK, Morrish is due back at work on Monday.

Peter Fray

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