Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt claims to have obtained a confidential Border Force report and key CCTV footage that backs up Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s claims about what led to the Good Friday incident in the Manus Island detention centre, but will he be pursued for leaks as others have?
What exactly happened on Manus Island on Good Friday, when guns were fired inside the detention centre, remains a matter of dispute. Dutton claims emotions were high after three asylum seekers took a five-year-old-boy into the camp. This was contradicted by people on Manus, including the PNG police, who said that the boy was 10 years old and that the catalysing incident had nothing to do with the boy — it was a soccer match at the naval base.
Earlier this week, Bolt — as Dutton’s biggest backer in the media — expressed some doubt about the claims the Immigration Minister had been making and said Dutton should put up or apologise. Then yesterday in both the Herald Sun and on his Sky News TV show, Bolt reported he had found evidence to back Dutton’s claims. He had access to what he said was a Border Force report on the incident and crucial CCTV footage of the incident. He said that the boy looked to be five years old, and that the boy had been led into accommodation tents, not where food was stored, as had been claimed. He suggested the parents of the boy might be filing a report over the incident.
No proof of these claims have been offered aside from Bolt’s assurance that Dutton was more correct than both the PNG police and asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre. Journalist and asylum seeker in the Manus Island detention centre Behrouz Boochani tweeted last night that there was no evidence to back Bolt’s claims, and called for the department to release the report to the public.
Bolt said he unfortunately couldn’t disclose his source, but he said it was “100% solid”, and added he had confirmed some of the information with Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg. Dutton had previously stated that the briefings he had received on the matter were confidential, making the leaking of the report to Bolt, if it is in fact a leak, both in breach of the Border Force Act and the Commonwealth Crimes Act.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is notorious for chasing the sources of journalists reporting on the issue of immigration detention under section 70 of the Crimes Act, in particular Guardian Australia investigative journalist Paul Farrell.
Crikey asked the Department of Immigration for a copy of the report and asked whether the department would be investigating the leak to Bolt as it had other leaks from Australia’s immigration network, but we received no response.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed to a Senate inquiry on incidents in the Manus and Nauru detention centres that since the Border Force Act was passed in 2015, there had been seven investigations into potential breaches of the act by leaking of information to the media, but so far there had been no prosecutions arising out of those investigations.
Greens immigration spokesperson Nick McKim announced yesterday he would visit the Manus Island detention centre next week.