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Feb 24, 2014

Morrison's use of asylum seeker death unravels as facts come back to bite

Scott Morrison's insistence on using an asylum seeker's death as a political tool has left him exposed, as his initial claim about Manus Island was quickly shown to be false.


Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been brought undone by the characteristics that make him the quintessential Abbott government minister: his inexperience, his aggression and his disdain for facts.

In his first press conference last Tuesday following the killing of Reza Berati on Manus Island, Morrison saw in Berati’s death — which, he acknowledged, was a tragedy — an opportunity to criticise asylum seekers. Berati had “put himself at risk” by leaving the detention centre, Morrison explained:

“[T]his was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk. In those situations our security people need to undertake the tasks that they need to undertake to restore the facility to a place of safety, and equally those who are maintaining the safety of the security environment outside the centre need to use their powers and various accoutrements that they have available to them in order to restore in the way that is provided for under PNG law.”

For Morrison, the death of Berati was a salutary lesson, a sort of Aesop’s Fable for detainees — don’t leave the centre or you’ll be dealt with “in the way that is provided for under PNG law”. But the story began unravelling within hours. At a second media conference late on Tuesday afternoon, he admitted under questioning from journalists — not in his opening statement — that Berati might not have been killed outside the detention centre, saying “where physically this took place based on the information I have received this afternoon, that is a matter where there are some conflicting reports”.

Journalist: What are the conflicting reports?

Morrison: Well, the reports are conflicting on where the individual might have been at the time.

Journalist: Either inside or outside.

Morrison: I am saying that there are conflicting reports …

Eager to avoid a “children overboard” situation, Morrison’s department had clearly alerted him to the fact that it was unclear where Berati was when he received his fatal wounds. Nonetheless, Morrison couldn’t help himself — he continued to push the narrative that fault rested with Berati:

“When people engage in violent acts and in disorderly behaviour and breach fences and get involved in that sort of behaviour and go to the other side of the fence, well they will be subject to law enforcement as applies in Papua New Guinea.”

Moreover, Morrison was full of praise for security contractor G4S. At his first Tuesday media conference he wanted to:

“… stress that the actions taken by our people there overnight showed a great deal of courage, showed a great deal of strength, and a great deal of application and determination to maintain a situation which was very tense and very stressful. The people who serve in these centres do so under a great deal of stress, and I particularly want to thank all of those who are involved with our service providers.”

Morrison also relied on G4S’ claims — now proven to be wrong — that no locals had come into the detention centre. On the weekend, Morrison was forced to admit that his claim about Berati was incorrect, releasing a statement at the unusual time of late Saturday evening:

“I wish to confirm that contrary to initial reports received, I have received further information that indicates that the majority of the riotous behaviour that occurred, and the response to that behaviour to restore order to the centre, took place within the perimeter of the centre. As advised on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 18, I indicated that I had received further information which meant that I could no longer confirm that the deceased man sustained his injuries outside the centre. The further information I have now received casts further doubt on the initial advice that his injuries were sustained outside the centre.”

And yesterday, stung by G4S’ incorrect statement, Morrison declined to declare confidence in the company he had been lauding only days before. He also had great difficulty finding a form of words with which to answer the question of whether he could guarantee the safety of detainees. It’s hard to guarantee the safety of people being guarded by an organisation that gets basic facts wrong.

Morrison, it should be recalled, is a relative political novice, having only been in Parliament since 2007. He had no ministerial experience of any kind before taking over the large and high-profile Immigration portfolio, as well as taking on the absurd pseudo-military role of leader of “Operation Sovereign Borders”. A more experienced politician might have sensed the problem of relying on initial reports from what was obviously a complex and obscure set of circumstances; a more experienced politician might have noted the reports circulating among refugee advocates and, while appreciating their bias, have wondered if the consistency and insistence about the role of locals in the violence might have had some substance.

Instead, Morrison elected to charge ahead with the aggression that is the trademark of this government, and seek to turn Berati’s death to his advantage by, in effect, claiming Berati had brought his fate on himself by running away. Perhaps Morrison was unable to do anything else. His attitude to sharing information isn’t one based on accountability or transparency, but on advantage — what advantage will providing information give to the government, what advantage will it provide to people smugglers, what advantage will it provide to a hostile media? Since becoming Immigration Minister, he has resisted releasing any information of any kind about asylum seekers beyond that which can be used to score political points.

And while his Manus Island story was unravelling, Morrison was troubled by another problem: his department had been discovered to have provided personal information about asylum seekers in publicly accessible documents. Morrison was appropriately unhappy about his department’s potentially life-threatening error, but he and his staff promptly exacerbated the problem by identifying the documents containing the information, something media outlets had elected not to do.

Morrison’s disregard for facts as anything other than political tools is one the Prime Minister has long shared, and a trait that has complicated the Coalition’s transition to government. It’s one thing to be dismissive of inconvenient facts when you’re in opposition and have no responsibility. But as Morrison has discovered, you can’t be dismissive of them when you’re in charge.



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49 thoughts on “Morrison’s use of asylum seeker death unravels as facts come back to bite

  1. Saugoof

    The problem is that, like with the whole children overboard saga, the first lines he uttered will probably be all that ends up being remembered. How many people still believe asylum seekers threw their kids overboard? How many people stopped listening once they heard that Reza Berati is to blame for his own death?

    As Mark Twain (may have) said, “A lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts on its boots”

  2. MJPC

    Lies have short legs part 3:
    Something bad must have happened; Commandant Morrison deened himself to be interviewed by those lefties at the ABS this AM about the unruliness on Gulag MI.
    Obviously Ray Hadley was not available over at 2GB, evidently off the air as a result of his own neferious activities.

  3. DiddyWrote

    Totally agree Bernard, this casual disdain for the truth will be the signature of an Abbott led government.
    Another will be the continual screaming and shouting and feigned outrage whenever they are questioned about events and policy.

  4. Tyler T

    Refugees are murdered in his ‘care’ and of course his first instinct is to defame them on the basis of contested internal reports. Apparently this is the sort of ‘non-wimpish’ behaviour our loathesome prime minister is looking for in his cabinet.

  5. Jan Forrester

    Remember when Morrison was Tourism Minister: devising, or approving the not-memorable campaign line: “Where the bloody hell are you?”

  6. klewso

    Abbott can’t sack him – as you say he’s “The Quintessential Abbott Minister” – arrogant to the last – sack him and where would it end – you’d have to sack the lot?
    He will have to get that fire-wall checked though.

  7. Andybob

    I think I’d rather a thorough,truthful and competent wimp for a Minister than an aggressive partisan grenade tosser.

  8. rossmcg


    Exactly, Abbott and his fellow ministers get up in public day after day and lie about the carbon tax forcing businesses to close. Abbott said it the other day.
    Brandis told senate estimates today the the Tories inherited a government that was broke. Probably the only broke government in the world with an AAA credit rating.
    Abetz goes on and on about a wages explosion.
    As Goebbels did, just keep repeating the lie.

  9. Finn Human

    polls show Australians want asylum seekers treated more harshly. if anything, i would expect recent events to improve the governments popularity.

  10. klewso

    “A more experienced politician might have …..” – like Reith, and Howard?

  11. Jimmy

    One of the things I find curious about this is that these refugees were rioting so violently that 1 man is dead and numerous othersseriously injured but yet according to Abbott there was minimal property damage, surely given previous “riot” experiences where there has been severe property damage yet almost no injuries would lead people to question what has actually happened here?

    Also on Morrison, I think I recall a BK article during the previous govt where he pointed out that Abbott was making a rod for his own back with all his calls for ministers to be sacked over minor indiscretions – a more vigilent media might point this out.

  12. thelorikeet

    So grateful not to have a ‘wimp’ in charge of ‘border control’. Pity however that the other defining characteristics of a good minister are absent (like integrity, honesty, administrative competence, responsiveness, analytical capacity etc).

    Maybe Morrison’s real job is to make other Ministers look OK – in which case he’s doing a grand job!

  13. Wynn

    I’d like to think he has been brought undone, but so far the facts are nothing but a minor hiccup in the refrain. Notwithstanding the apparent problems establishing the facts, Abbott continues to harp on the fact that the incident started with a “very violent riot” by asylum seekers. I haven’t yet heard a journalist ask how he can be so certain of this fact, while still waiting for an investigation, and in I light of the fact that, apparently G4S have provided incorrect information.

    Now, of course, G4S can be sacrificed as a Lsbor appointed contractor – although it appears the current G4S manager at Manus will be staying on under Transfield. Wonder if current local staff will also be staying on.

  14. rhwombat

    The blusterers of last week, month, year are strangely silent and subdued. Perhaps reality is seeping, dripping, stinking up their Party.

  15. zut alors

    Morrison has just learnt a valuable lesson ie: tell the media & voters absolutely nothing.

  16. Hindrum Cameron

    So Morrison knew as early as last Tuesday afternoon that his story wasn’t accurate-yet it takes until Saturday night to issue a clarification.

    There are clear issues here regarding his management of the situation as the minister responsible–and they are issues which, in the normal course of events, should necessitate his removal from the portfolio.

  17. Tyler T

    jimmy also notable that during this ‘violent riot’ the only injuries were sustained by refugees

  18. CliffG

    Morrison is a bully, a thug and an arrogant monster who hides behind sanctimony and self-righteousness.
    He only told the truth after an eye-witness made a public statement and emphatically refuted his lies.
    He is directly responsible for the care of asylum seekers in the government’s detention centres. Although he seeks to shift and shuffle blame, it is his direct responsibility. He has blood on his hands.
    A navy member has now come out with the truth about the navy’s treatment of asylum seekers and again his lies are exposed.
    He is a most dangerous man.

  19. MJPC

    The media should now be pushing on the “burning hands” allegations. More and more this looks like an earlier cover-up and there needs to facts known in both cases.
    Of course, thinking the media will seek the truth is like expecting the Commandant to show some integrity.

  20. puddleduck

    Did you see the graphics on the Liberal Party of Australia Facebook page on the day after the death of Reza Berati? Not a page I’d visit usually, but it was drawn to my attention.

    Lovely modern graphics with “64 days with no boats”.
    Insensitive in the extreme. I think they are nuts. But the loyal followers’ comments on the page are revealing, and not a bit horrifying. People actually think this way?

    Pauline Pantsdown’s(Pauline Hanson’s nemesis) response is here:

  21. drmick

    The politician of the year has stopped the boats (getting past the navy at least), and is getting rid of the evidence of any that did; one by one.

  22. Pedantic, Balwyn

    Morrison has become a master of selective fact reporting and his ability to get away with it hasn’t gone unnoticed by other Ministers like Joe Hockey, Fiona Nash and George Brandis, who have adopted similar practises.
    However integrity and honesty were never strong points for their leader as exemplified by Mr Abbott’s liberal use of tax-payer funded expenses, staements about SPC awards and the list goes on.

  23. michael r james

    Other than the total moral bankruptcy of Morrison and Abbott (presumably they’ll let their maker be their only judge? or maybe confess to Kevin Andrews, a lay preacher I think?) this shows up the bleeding obvious moral bankruptcy of governments (of both stripe) outsourcing this work to corporate thugs like G4S and Serco, and now Transfield. Not in the name of “efficiency” but in reality in an attempt to separate themselves from the repugnant job of running a gulag for innocent people. I suppose it works for the day to day brutalizing but as we see, it cannot work when things get truly nasty.

    Christine Milne responded quickly and appropriately when Abbott outrageously asked at a press conference “can anyone think of another example (other than the Pink Batts fiasco) when the Australian government killed people?”. She said that they have just been responsible for murder in Manus.
    Gerard Henderson on yesterday’s Insiders, in his usual weasly, grubby manner, tried to be a sanctimonious smartarse and said that Milne should take responsibility for the 1000 deaths of asylum seekers on Indonesian boats. Unfortunately no one countered his carefully prepared smear of merde. But the difference is huge: on the one hand a deliberate government-instigated gulag for people who have committed no crime, run by a government-appointed group of thugs. Compared to asylum seekers who freely choose to risk their own lives in search of release from hell in their home countries. We cannot say that they do not have the right to take that risk if they so choose.

  24. John64

    Saugoof: “The problem is that, like with the whole children overboard saga, the first lines he uttered will probably be all that ends up being remembered. How many people still believe asylum seekers threw their kids overboard? How many people stopped listening once they heard that Reza Berati is to blame for his own death?”

    @Saugoof: No, the real problem is, how many people care?

  25. MarilynJS

    Well the media have been less than useful, including you Bernard who took every opportunity to trash the greens over this sort of racist human dumping.

    Saugoof is correct though, there are still morons who think the Iraqis threw their kids into the sea, even though they are all now Australian citizens who told the truth years ago.

    They think David Hicks is a terrorist even though that has proved to be a lie and they always knew it was a lie.

    And it astounds me that not one media outlet has yet pointed out that Manus Island is not our frigging border.

  26. Deipnosoph

    AndyBob – just wanted to point out that somehow the word “grenade” got inserted in your post.

  27. Jimmy

    Also there was an intersting editorial in the Hun yesterday (although I only read the first paragraph before I couldn’t take it any more), it’s basic premise was that no one cares about the refugee getting killed and it’s rationale for this was that there was an outcry on twitter which in apparently bizarro world.

    Anyway it seems we won’t be seeing much on this from News Ltd.

  28. Observation

    Surely there needs to be an investigation into the G4S company, which I understand is affiliated with private company currently employed to run Wa’s prisons. It is now reported that an ex military man from Sri Lanka is managing MI.

  29. Matt Hardin

    I know now Morrison avoids briefing the press. His Freudian slips

    [a great deal of application and determination to maintain a situation which was very tense and very stressful]

    make it obvious what he means even as he uses more obfuscatory language than Sir Humphrey Appleby.

    (I am sure he wanted to say “manage” but his conscience wouldn’t let him)

  30. Matt Hardin

    Sorry should read “why Morrison avoids”.

  31. Scott

    One of the best things about outsourcing is you can always blame someone else.
    Scott Morrison has heaps of people he can blame for this one. After all, this is an Australian detention center, that is managed and staffed by a private security company, on another sovereign nation’s soil.

    So plenty of blame to go round.

    1. You can blame those dangerous boat people first (good thing they are locked up!).
    2. If that doesn’t work, its those dodgy over-zealous private security thugs (we won’t renew that contract!).
    3. Lastly, you can blame PNG (what a dangerous place…no rule of law there)

    The Greens and Labor will try to tag Morrison for this, but politically, I don’t see a lot of damage on this one.
    Remember that it was most likely a riot, started by the inmates that resulted in the death. The death, while tragic, will be put in the context of “1 death on Manus vs 1000 potential boat deaths on the high seas by the people smuggling trade”
    Teflon Morrison will float on above the squealing twitterverse and tonights no doubt harsh Q&A “I’ll take that as a comment” crew (who make up a voting population of 0.5%)

  32. Repete

    All I see is a bucket of turds with Abbott, et al, steaming on the top, most sadly, Labor is in the mix

  33. AR

    A couple of Labor PM’s are personally responsible for cowboy contractors causing deaths, people paying bigBuck$ to set to sea in worm eaten boats but Morriscum has washed his hands,PP style – he should know the NT story – of the death of a person for whom he is responsible.
    It’s OK though, we don’t have a wimp in charge of our concentration camps.

  34. colin skene

    Can you just imagine the line that the Murdoch empire and Jones, Hadley et al would have taken if this had occurred under a Gillard government? I know you can because we saw so much of it. I would never lower myself enough to invest time or money in finding out what their thoughts are, but can anybody enlighten me? What do they make of all this? Because, it’s not what I express here that will make one sod of difference in the minds of Mr and Mrs Stuggle-Street, it’s what they say.

  35. Electric Lardyland

    I wonder what they teach at the Pentecostal church that Morrison attends? Perhaps, like seemingly many others, they just ignore the New Testament.

  36. tonyfunnywalker

    Morrison from that ill fated PowerPoint presentation has moved from disaster to disaster. He is an incompetent Minister and he blusters through or does not answer at all. He is contemptible and even though Pyne and Hunt have been sent out with diversions – even the pillorying of the ABC Morrison cannot escape – he is a total failure as a Minister and perhaps if he had been a little more respectful of the Press he could have had some support – but his contempt deserved contempt in return. Arrogance personified and a recidivist when it comes to being lax with the truth he deserves to be driven from office. He is worse than Rex Connor and twice as devious. He is still the hero of the Murdoch stable but collectively they have lost all credibility as the sycophantic concert for the Abbott government will make next years proms as the comedy spot of the evening. Abbott is digging a hole as his continued support for Morrison, Hunt and Nash is a painful reminder that supporting a tainted member can prove fateful. Howard sacked his tainted cabinet – Abbott is too gutless to sneeze.

  37. michael r james

    [A devout Christian who worships at Shirelive, an American-style Pentecostal church in his constituency, he doesn’t claim that his religion makes him a better politician – only that it inspires him to be a good person. “From my faith, I derive the values of loving kindness, justice and righteousness,” he said in his first speech in the House of Representatives in 2008.]

    from the profile of Morrison by Jane Cadzow in Fairfax, Nov 2012.

  38. Sean Doyle

    @Jimmy (11): Well, we’re meant to be having a royal commission/public hanging of Peter Garrett into the “pink batts” program because four workers lost their lives due to dodgy bosses, so a bit of “fair’s fair” wouldn’t go astray.

  39. Margaret Ludowyk

    Looks like Morrison has been mentored by Peter Reit, i.e. take any opportunity to demonise the asylum seekers and make it look like it was their own fault.Abbott’s response was even more contemptible, so pleased that the riot caused little property damage and pretty much ignored the fact that an innocent young man in his care was murdered. Disgusting

  40. Jon Sims

    I am only partisan during the election period. For the rest of the time, I am just concerned with whoever we’ve ended up with governing the country as honestly, transparently, efficiently and effectively as possible and being accountable for any lapses in these qualities.

    While I am not a fan of offshore processing, this Government made it clear what types of policies it would employ to stop the boats at the election, it won the election and so it now has the responsibility (as distinct from the right) to carry out its policies to the standard we should be able to expect from an Australian Government.

    So I won’t be criticising the policy – just the administration.

    6 days ago the Minister said “… but its not a situation, sadly, that was not anticipated.”

    The public have a right to know what was anticipated, what plans were in place to deal with those anticipations, how well the plans worked and if there were any shortcomings – in this case the death and injuries suggest there were serious shortcomings – have they been addressed, if so how and if not when will they be addressed.

    This tragic event can also be considered a realised risk. That is there was a chance that something would occur – and it did. All risk management plans associated with this event need to be reviewed to check that any other likely (as one assumes an anticipated even would be rated) events have appropriate control strategies in place.

    Clearly in a case like this there is a demand for information. The Minister chose to meet some of that demand by relying on reports from G4S. While G4S information should, like all other information available at the time, be used to try and piece together a picture of what happened, the Minister and his office ought to have recognised that G4S were in a conflicted position and limited the Minister’s reliance on it.

  41. Angra

    You realise that the Manager of G4S is Kevin McNamara? Disgraced and sacked Victorian policeman, accused of assaulting drug dealers, teenagers and gays, corruptly obtaining police funds, protecting prostitutes from prosecution, and responsible for the infamous Tasty nightclub raid.

    Oh and also sacked from managing security operations at both Melbourne and Brisbane airports.

    Fine company for Morrison

    Google him.

  42. Angra

    Should be ‘manager of G4S in PNG.’

  43. 4567

    Lack of ministerial experience is no excuse for incompetence and inhumanity. He is what he is with or without govt experience.
    Australia voted LNP. Suck it up, this is where you live now – grab a drink and watch it all come down.

  44. David McRae

    TY Angra – I just looked up Kevin McNamara. Wow, what a shocker. Perfect, I guess , to run a gulag

  45. Rena Zurawel

    Have we stopped discussing human rights in this country?

  46. Wynn

    How much longer before it is alleged that Berati was killed by other asylum seekers.

    Amazed it hasn’t happened yet.

  47. AR

    Wynn – “Too LATE!” quoth the Raven – I’ve heard exactly that on Hate Central (2GB) this week – each of the shoutjocks has at least one “caller” claiming/suggesting exactly that. Strange how synchronous the meme is…

  48. Wynn

    AR, you’ve restored my lack of faith in humanity! Had to happen. Maybe we’ll hear it from Abbott and Morrison when they’ve exhausted other options.

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