Scott Morrison has accused Labor and the Greens of trying to “whitewash their own failures in government” with the release of a Senate report which slammed the government over a deadly riot at the Manus Island Refugee Process Centre.
The report into the February 17 riot, in which 23-year-old Iranian Reza Barati was killed, was highly critical of the government, concluding that it had “failed in its duty to protect asylum seekers … from harm”, but Mr Morrison said the blame rested with Labor.
“The Coalition government inherited a centre on Manus Island which was underfunded and incomplete, and resettlement arrangements were little more than a blank sheet of paper.
“Cost, chaos and tragedy was the order of the day under Labor and the Greens. This is no longer the case under the Coalition government.
“We are getting on with the job of resettlement, once again cleaning up a Labor mess in partnership with the government of Papua New Guinea who retains sovereign control and responsibility for the centre as was established by the previous Labor government.”
But Labor and Greens members have hit back at the claims, claiming Mr Morrison and the government should be more accountable for its decisions.
Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles said Mr Morrison was “passing the buck”.
“Scott Morrison is blaming everyone but himself. The simple truth is a young man lost his life on Scott Morrison’s watch,” Mr Marles said.
“Instead of focusing on everyone else’s jobs – Mr Morrison should start with doing his own properly.”
Government senators speak out
Mr Morrison’s comments echo those of government senators on the committee responsible for the report.
Writing in a dissenting chapter included in the report, the senators argued responsibility for underlying issues that led to the violence rested on Labor’s shoulders.
“The majority of problems identified by witnesses regarding Manus Island had their origin in the way the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (MIRPC) was re-opened by the Rudd Labor government in the lead up to the 2013 federal election,” they wrote.
“The decision to re-open the facility was taken without sufficient planning, training, facilities upgrades or consideration of the challenges of administration and operation of the centre.”
They also hit back at the report’s recommendation that the government take responsibility for the violation of human rights that occurred during the unrest and provide compensation to those who were affected, including the family of slain asylum seeker Reza Barati.
According to the senators, the premise of the recommendation was “flawed in that it pre-supposes that human rights have been violated”.
Greens lash government
Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the report was damning of the government.
“This damning report clearly shows that the Abbott government has ultimate responsibility for the centre and for the people held there,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“The Immigration Minister can’t keep blaming the PNG government for what happened that night. The fact is the buck stops with him and he’s responsible for everything that goes on in the centre.
“Scott Morrison’s behaviour following the brutal attack on the centre was reprehensible. He lied to the Australian people and blamed the victims themselves.”
The report’s recommendation to increase transparency and accountability at the centre by allowing access to UN representatives, Australian legal professionals and journalists, as well as regular inspections by the Australian Human Rights Commission, was also singled out by the senators.
They argue that it is the PNG government which decides who visits the the centre and in what capacity.
“Papua New Guinea is a sovereign nation and it would not be appropriate, or in keeping with the spirit of regional cooperation, for Australia to seek to dictate who can visit their territory, on what terms, and how such people should be allowed to conduct themselves once there,” wrote the dissenting senators.
“The government senators on the committee note that any person – be they a journalist, lawyer or human rights observer – is able to seek consent to enter from the governments of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.”
The government senators agreed that the centre had faced a “range of logistical and operational challenges”, but that “the government and the department have, since September 2013, largely overcome the bulk of these challenges”.
“Australian government has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that the facilities at the MIRPC are of a standard that would satisfy the expectations of the Australian people,” the report reads.