Manus Island incident
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Press Conference, Canberra
Minister Morrison: Thank you for coming together. Last night on Manus Island was a deliberate attempt to disrupt the operations of our offshore processing centre, and unlike what occurred at Nauru, Christmas Island and Villawood, this has not been the result. The determined and professional efforts of our staff and service providers, working together with PNG authorities frustrated that attempt. This morning the centre resumed its operations.
In the course of those events there was a tragedy and as I said this morning, that is a terrible event and one for which the government expresses its deepest sympathies.
Early today I reported on the information that was available regarding this incident at Manus Island at that time. I can now provide a further update as promised based on the advice I have received upon returning to Canberra this afternoon from Darwin and following a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet that was also convened this afternoon.
On the evening of 17 February a demonstration commenced in Oscar compound involving around 50 – 70 transferees chanting. This was reportedly in relation to those transferees detained the previous night and held at the Lorengau Police Station. The demonstration ended but tensions remained high and transferees threatened further action if those transferees detained by police were not released.
The demonstration flared again at around 9.45pm local time with transferees pushing down internal fences between compounds. The incident escalated quickly with several hundred transferees involved. A number of transferees moved from the facility to the adjoining road where they had also pushed down fences. G4S staff kitted with their personal protective equipment and shields attempted to contain the situation. Shields were used to push back transferees, allowing access to an evacuation of injured transferees.
Just after 11.20pm local time PNG police were reported to have fired shots. At around midnight local time, at the height of the disturbance, G4S staff withdrew to the internal perimeter and the PNG police intervened with those transferees who had breached the external perimeter. At 1am the PNG police were once again reported to have fired shots, at 2am order was restored to the centre.
This morning I advised that 77 transferees were treated for injuries, the majority suffering head injuries. 12 remain in a serious condition and are receiving treatment and a further 3 have been positioned for medevac to Port Moresby. The person who was shot in the buttocks has already been transferred to Port Moresby where they will receive their treatment and will not be further transferred to Australia. The critical case involving a probable skull fracture has already been transferred to Australia.
Immediate action taken today was as follows – firstly to restore the safety and security of the centre for both transferees and our staff including service provider staff.
Secondly, 100 additional security staff have been placed on standby for deployment on Manus. This is in addition to the 130 additional security staff that were deployed to Manus on February 1 to 3. The Deputy Secretary of my department will be in Papua New Guinea tomorrow to discuss these matters directly with the government of Papua New Guinea.
Immediate repairs to infrastructure have been undertaken and are continuing. That includes the lighting, power, furniture, windows, restoration of fencing and things of that nature. Further medevac's for three individuals as I referred to before are also being arranged.
I also can report that the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott spoke with Prime Minister O'Neill today while I was in transit back from Darwin to discuss this incident. Prime Minister O'Neill confirmed Papua New Guinea's ongoing commitment to offshore processing on Manus Island and resettlement in Papua New Guinea. He also gave an assurance that the appropriate investigations would be undertaken by PNG authorities wherever appropriate.
My Department Secretary, Mr Bowles, will initiate a full review into this incident in the same way such reviews were commissioned after previous incidents by the former government in Nauru and other places. That same process as was applied in those circumstances will be applied in this situation.
Regarding police investigations or coronial enquiries – these are matters for the Papua New Guinean Government as the Prime Minister, Mr O'Neill made very clear and as is appropriate as these things occurred within their jurisdiction. We will be liaising with them closely through the Attorney–General to provide any support or assistance as requested and to remain updated on the progress of these investigations which they will conduct.
I'm happy to take questions.
Journalist: What are you doing to speed up processing so you don't have so many people there for so long?
Minister Morrison: Well processing is continuing and has been continuing Michelle. The processing is a process that is undertaken by PNG authorities, we've had people up there training PNG assessors for some period of time and they are conducting that processing now. Processing has recommenced under this government and that processing will continue.
Journalist: Minister, who killed the asylum seeker?
Minister Morrison: Well that is a matter for a police investigation and I don't have any further information to what I provided this morning in Darwin on that matter.
Journalist: Who fired the guns? Was it the PNG Police who fired the guns?
Minister Morrison: Well I reported just now that there were two shots that were reported to be fired and they were reported to be fired by PNG Police.
Journalist: Minister can you guarantee the safety of transferees who are sent to Manus Island given the events overnight?
Minister Morrison: I can guarantee their safety when they remain in the centre and act co–operatively with those who are trying to provide them with support and accommodation. 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. But when people co–operate and conduct themselves appropriately within the centre then yes I can.
Journalist: Minister what can you tell us about the dead man? Like the extent of his injuries? Whether the two shots hit these people or whether one shot missed one shot…
Minister Morrison: Well the shots are not necessarily related to the injury to the person who was shot in the buttocks. That hasn't been established, point number one. Secondly, in terms of the man who died, he had a head injury and at this stage it is not possible to give any further detail on that, including now, based on subsequent reports, where this may have taken place.
Journalist: According to the advice you've got, is his head injury consistent with blunt force, or…
Minister Morrison: I just can't give you that information at the moment because it's not available to me.
Journalist: Minister, Minister, there has been reports from Manus Island that other people came into the asylum seeker compound and attacked asylum seekers and there has also been reports that some of the asylum seekers who breached the fence were actually running away rather than trying to escape, have you got any…
Minister Morrison: That's not consistent with the reports that I've received, in particular I'm aware that those reports say that the fence was pushed over from outside with people allegedly trying to come in to attack those who were inside. That is not how the fence went down, as I've been advised. Sorry?
Journalist: Have you had any reports of people from outside coming in and hurting asylum seekers in the compound?
Minister Morrison: Well in terms of the presence of the PNG Police…
Journalist: No, no, non–police, people other than police…
Minister Morrison: No, I don't have any reports of that based on the advice I have.
Journalist: What do we know about the dead man? Where did he come from? Where is his family?
Minister Morrison: Well they're matters that have to be first handled back through the appropriate diplomatic channels in terms of advising the family members and things of that nature…
Journalist: Have they been advised?
Minister Morrison: Well again I'm not about to canvass those matters here when those things haven't been fully followed through…
Journalist: But he was in your custody, do we know the age, you know, ethnicity?
Minister Morrison: Once I'm advised that I can release those details then I'd be happy to release those details.
Journalist: Has his family been told?
Minister Morrison: Well that is all in the process of being undertaken.
Journalist: The man with the fractured skull who is on his way to Australia, where has he been taken?
Minister Morrison: He's at a facility in Australia. I'm not about to disclose his location because I don't think that's going to assist with his treatment…
Journalist: Which state?
Minister Morrison: …He's in major Australian hospital where he is getting appropriate care from very well qualified people.
Journalist: Do we know what other weapons were used in the attack other than…
Minister Morrison: I have no other information on weapons other than the two shots being fired – reports that we've received. Unlike the incident on the previous night, where I briefed here only not that long ago about what was used, I don't have reports of that type of activity or behaviour from last night, but that's not to say that once further debriefs are conducted and further information is compiled then we'll form a more complete picture.
Minister Morrison: Sorry, Michelle?
Journalist: There's a suggestion that perhaps the initial cause of all this was that the PNG Foreign Minister opened up the possibility last week of settlement in third countries and that was then contradicted by the briefing on Sunday, do you know anything about that?
Minister Morrison: Well that is just all speculation Michelle and that's not speculation I could confirm, that's…
Journalist: Well what do you make of it?
Minister Morrison: That's not our understanding of what had occurred.
As I said this morning there had been a series of rolling, what were largely for a period of time fairly peaceful protests that were taking place in the centre that is why we had additional security people transferred up to Manus, to beef up the security that we had there. And these protests had a fairly consistent pattern to them, and clearly what has been tried to be done here has been to completely disrupt the operations of that centre, as we've seen on other occasions, and on this occasion, despite what is a terrible tragedy, the centre stands, the centre operates and the centre was operating first thing this morning.
People have been taken back into the centre and getting appropriate care. I should also stress that our staff, who have been involved there will also be given the appropriate support. You could imagine that it's been a fairly difficult time for them over the last 48 hours and we're doing whatever we can to give them support as well.
Journalist: What do you make of the Foreign Minister's comment last week or statement last week that there'd be that eminent persons group and that they would look at whether people were to be settled in PNG?
Minister Morrison: Well my understanding of that process Michelle is how they are going about putting in place the resettlement arrangements in Papua New Guinea.
Journalist: But he left open the possibility as well.
Minister Morrison: Well I think the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made that fairly clear to our Prime Minister today and I've reported on that.
Journalist: Minister, regarding the dead man. The fact that the PNG government is investigating, are we to assume from that then that the injuries were sustained outside the perimeter of the fence and that it was not someone from G4S involved?
Minister Morrison: Well people can make assumptions at the moment I am not going to make assumptions until I have further information on that. Where physically this took place based on the information I have received this afternoon, that is a matter where there are some conflicting reports. There is no suggestion to my knowledge or what I am advised that the incident involving that individual had anything to do with staff employed by G4S, the RT team or any of those but you know we are still at early phases. I mean we are not even within 24 hours of this incident first taking place. As you would appreciate in situations like this there is a briefing process that has to go on and that is going on pretty much as we speak with the PNG police force and to ascertain a range of issues in terms of their movements last night and that is all part of putting a complete picture together.
Journalist: What are the conflicting reports?
Minister Morrison: Well the reports are conflicting on where the individual might have been at the time.
Journalist: Either inside or outside.
Minister Morrison: I am saying that there are conflicting reports and when I have a full picture on where the individual might have been but that could be some time to determine because we anticipate that would be the subject of a police investigation. There'd need to be quite a number of interviews conducted and that could take some time.
Journalist: Are you planning to go to PNG yourself.
Minister Morrison: I do plan to go to PNG soon. I am going to take advice on when the most appropriate time is to do that I mean you want to go when you can assist not make the job of everybody up there any more difficult but that is why I have dispatched the deputy secretary of my department to go up there immediately together with the individual in the department who is responsible more generally across our offshore processing centres and so we will take opportunities to have further discussions with the PNG government and to tour the facilities themselves when we are able to. But I think it was a good opportunity for the Prime Minister's to have a discussion today and make one issues very clear and that was a) that the offshore processing centres were retained with the support of both governments and secondly the resettlement arrangements remain in terms of the commitment provided by Papua New Guinea and also I should add to that that the appropriate investigations will be undertaken by PNG authorities and we are very happy to assist if they require that assistance but that is a matter for PNG.
Journalist: You said there had been peaceful protests rolling. Do you know yet what it was that sparked this protest to go from a peaceful process to what we saw unfold?
Minister Morrison: Well that is not perfectly clear at present. It is not uncommon for the protests of a peaceful nature to happen on a rolling basis in these centres. I mean people don't want to be in these centres. They want to have a permanent visa here in Australia and a pathway to citizenship. That's what they got on a boat for and that's what they have been denied and that is always going to result in tension in these environments. The tension is not a surprise and the tension will remain because of the nature of where people are and where they don't want to be and it is the responsibility of the government to in running these centres to ensure we maintain security and we maintain safety in these places and we maintain their operations and on some days that is going to be tougher than others and today is one such a day.
Journalist: Did Prime Minister O'Neill say more about how the asylum seekers would be resettled in Papua New Guinea – where, what the arrangements are…
Minister Morrison: Well again I have covered those off in these briefings before Lenore. It was not a lengthy discussion as I am advised. I was not part of that conversation. The conversation was reported to me as having those key features as I have said.
Journalist: You ruled out G4S having any involvement in the guy's death…
Minister Morrison: No I didn't do that. What I said is we have to wait for all the evidence to come in and we have to wait for investigations to be concluded. I am not aware and I have no report or advice to me which suggests that G4S was in that place or in that vicinity where the event took place but it is still very early days and there is no suggestion to me that that is what has occurred but I think it is not appropriate particularly now I have had further briefings on the matter to speculate on it.
Journalist: You said that the PNG Police were reported to have fired shots. First of all where did those reports come from – Australia or PNG and secondly are you satisfied that PNG Police acted appropriately in firing at asylum seekers?
Minister Morrison: Well there is no suggestion that they fired at asylum seekers Bianca. That is not what I said. I said shots were reported to be fired. Now those shots for all we know…
Minister Morrison: Well there is no suggestion that those shots were the ones that involved the individual being shot in the buttocks either. I think you need to be careful not to connect dots here that I have not connected. What we will do is find out what those occasions were, why the shots were fired, where they were fired. That will be part of the process I am sure the PNG government in particular will pursue but also as part of debriefs we will be able to have a better picture of what happened there so at this stage I can just tell you there were two occasions where our authorities have reported back to us that shots were heard and reported to be fired by PNG Police but that in no way suggests in any way that those shots were fired at any individuals.
Journalist: Minister do you have any evidence or received any advice that any asylum seekers were armed?
Minister Morrison: No I haven't.
Journalist: Why was it necessary to call the National Security Committee? Do you have plans to send more than 130?
Minister Morrison: Well I think incidents like this and Operation Sovereign Borders more generally is a matter the National Security Committee takes a keen interest in and this was a significant event in that operation. It meets very, very regularly but the Prime Minister saw fit to call people together for a briefing to update on actions that needed to be taken and his own discussions with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and for me to brief my colleagues on the next steps.
Question: So were there discussions more than …
Minister Morrison: Well I am not going to go into what further was discussed. This is what this government does. What this government does is when we are faced with incidents like this we manage these as a team. The Prime Minister is at the helm, I have my responsibilities in this area, but equally so does the Attorney–General and others and there are other relationships we can draw on through the public service who are also present as you would be aware at these types of meetings. So this was a helpful step in the day the government was managing this issue proactively and we will continue to manage it proactively.
Question: Are you ruling out sending the military in to aid with security?
Minister Morrison: There is no consideration of something of that nature. I assume from your question that you are implying they would be sent there as some sort of security force. Is that what you are suggesting?
Minister Morrison: there is no contemplation of that.
Journalist: Are you confident you have got enough security staff there now?
Minister Morrison: Well we have 100 on stand–by who can be transferred as soon as would be necessary. As I said we transferred 130 in the beginning of February and I think that was an important thing to do to ensure that what happened last night was not even more serious than it actually was. The most tragic element of last night is the obvious death of one of the transferees. The more broader picture there was that the centre and particularly the critical infrastructure, the accommodation, the kitchens, all of these important parts of the facility have been maintained and I think our service providers, our immigration staff, did a very professional job under very difficult situations. These things will be challenged again, they will be tested again. We understand that. Things like this can happen and do happen and may happen again. It is how we respond to them that is important. It is one of the reasons why one of the first actions I took as Minister was to direct General Campbell to undertake a force assessment review of both Manus Island and Nauru after my first visit there soon after we took office. That has been a very important step in ensuring that we had better procedures in place to deal with a situation just like this. But even the best plans and the best preparations will be tested but I am pleased with the way that our staff and service providers on our reports acquitted themselves last night.
Journalist: Will one hundred go or only if necessary?
Minister Morrison: Well that decision will be taken over the next few days.
Journalist: The three asylum seekers with serious head injuries who were taken to Port Moresby. Why were they…
Minister Morrison: Well they will be taken to Port Moresby.
Journalist: Why are they going to Port Moresby and why aren't they coming to Australia.
Minister Morrison: Well those assessments are done by medical staff about where they can get the most appropriate treatment and how quickly and what sort of treatment they require and if that's available at Port Moresby and they make that assessment that it is then that's where they will go.
Journalist: Given your own comments that you have got no advice that these asylum seekers were armed in any way. Isn't it an unjustifiable use of force by PNG authorities that they are firing shots that some clearly have hit at least one asylum seeker?
Minister Morrison: Well again you are making an assumption that shots were fired at people and I don't think you can make that assumption. We don't know whether the shots were fired into the air. I have reported to you on two shots being heard. Whether there are other shots that were involved in other incidents then I don't have information on those. This morning I reported one shot because that was the information I had this morning. This afternoon it has been confirmed to me there were two occasions where shots were heard. But there is no suggestion in those reports as to where those shots were fired. They could have been fired in the air as a warning. They could have been fired in any number of circumstances.
Journalist: Was the PNG police force the only ones with guns there or did G4S have guns? Who else had guns?
Minister Morrison: G4S did not have guns.
Journalist: Do you have confidence in PNG authorities and their use of weapons and guns?
Minister Morrison: Well we worked very closely with the PNG authorities last night. They were in the command centre and we have worked closely with them not only this government but the previous government as well when they have been faced with these incidents and I have confidence in the work that they are doing there. This was a very stressful incident last night. The proper reviews and inquiries will be undertaken by the PNG authorities themselves. We will go through the debriefs that you do in a situation like this and we will form a more complete picture but the PNG authorities working together with Australian authorities and service providers last night were faced with a significant test and there is a tragic outcome in one case and there were many injuries. But I go back to what I said earlier when I was asked about the safety of those involved. If people are going to seek to disrupt the centres and knock fences over and engage in disorderly and indeed violent behaviour then they will put themselves at risk if they go beyond that perimeter fence and I don't think that is behaviour that should be encouraged. I notice that there continues to be all sorts of rumours and wild stories that are circulating, that is why I have taken the step today to brief twice on this matter. I will continue to brief but understand that one of the ways that these events are utilised by those seeking to disrupt is to push all sorts of strange stories around to create further confusion and to further undermine the efforts of the government to ensure there is order in these places. So that is why I am happy to brief and my office is happy to take the questions which I know you have been putting in during the course of the day and we will work through those enquiries, we will get you those responses and we will validate those back to you as soon as we can but I'd ask you to have patience with us because we need to confirm it. It has only happened within the last 24 hours. You can understand that our staff are very focussed on the moment in terms of this evening and ensuring that the security is maintained and that people are safe and that we continue to maintain the operations of the centre.
Journalist: Are you confident about security this evening?
Minister Morrison: I am confident based on the reports that I have had today but I qualify that with this and that is each day may present a different set of challenges. What we saw last night was a professional response by our service providers, by our own staff, and from the PNG authorities and those same professionals will be there this evening doing the same job as they did last night if they are presented with those sorts of scenarios. You can't give ultimate guarantees on these things Michelle. These are difficult environments within which to work but the government has been taking every step to ensure that safety and security can be maintained.
Journalist: Our correspondent on the ground says that the local hospital chief has been told not to give an interview by Australian G4S workers. Why would that be the case?
Minister Morrison: I have no knowledge about a conversation which you refer to so I can't really comment on it.
Journalist: They have been instructed to stop people talking.
Minister Morrison: I have been on a plane for most of the day Michael and been in briefings all day. Look that is a conversation that I have no knowledge of whether is it true or not. I couldn't comment on it.
Journalist: There have been three independent reports, that I have spoken to, that say there were people who came into the compound. Are you saying that no one came into the compound with machetes or guns? No one came into the compound, all of the violence happened outside the compound.
Minister Morrison: What I have said is that the report that people came into the centre and knocked the fence over and came in with machetes, I have had no reports on machetes whatsoever.
Minister Morrison: No I am not saying that. What I am saying is that the allegation that is being put around is that people from outside came and knocked over the fence and entered the facility and then went on some activity which has been described to you and to others. Now my report is there was no incursion into that facility to knock down that fence from the outside but what I am saying is the report that is being given to you said that they knocked the fence down and came in..
Minister Morrison: …just let me finish Andrew. Just let me finish. The suggestion that they came in that way that is not backed up by anything I have seen today. Nothing I have had reported to me today has any indication or report of any machetes or things of that nature that have been used and also I am advised and the reports I have to date don't indicate any injuries that would be consistent with a weapon of that nature.
Journalist: Did anyone come in at all, leave aside the machetes…
Minister Morrison: The full picture we are still putting together, Lenore, and I can't give you an absolute position on that as there are some conflicting reports at the moment and once those are resolved and the reasons for those conflicts then I'd be in a position to report on it.
Journalist: You colleague Michael Keenan is in PNG at the moment. Will he be changing his travel plans and going to Manus Island?
Minister Morrison: No. He will have the opportunity to meet with the attorney general tonight where I am sure these matters will be discussed.
Journalist: Given the slowing of the boats do you have a date or a time in your mind when you think you can have the centre at Manus empty?
Minister Morrison: Well look Phil, I am not about to make any sort of speculative forecast on that. At the moment we have been drawing down the population on Christmas Island quite significantly and we reported on that last week. That is going to be a function of the processing timeframes and Michelle has asked a question on that and we will see that processing occur as efficiently and effectively and fairly as possible. That has always been our intention and I think it was frankly the intention of the previous government as well to get the processing underway and I know it is the intention of the Papua New Guinean government. So there is no lack I think of good will or good faith from any party there to get that happening. What I can tell you is when the boats aren't coming, which they are not at present, we haven't had one for over eight weeks in terms of a successful venture, then you are obviously not applying further pressure in those centres and that is welcome. It is welcome on Christmas Island; it is also welcome at Manus Island and Nauru. So we will assess the population levels, particularly on Manus at current time and we will review any further transfers in the short term. But anyone who is on Christmas Island knows that they will either be transferred to Nauru or Manus because that is what has been occurring for the last few months.
Journalist: When is the Customs and Defence review into the boat incursions into Indonesian territory?
Minister Morrison: Well we had actually hoped to do that this evening. When I spoke to the opposition spokesperson this morning, Mr Marles, he indicated because other issues in his electorate today which are significant, with Alcoa, that he would be unable to attend a briefing on that today and he asked for that to be rescheduled, which we have done and once the opposition has been briefed on that we will be please to release the classified version of the report.
Journalist: Are there any non–asylum seekers injured?
Minister Morrison: We have no reports of any staff or any other person whether it is PNG authorities or others having sustained any major injuries or even minor injuries for that matter. That's not to say that some may present this evening once they have finished work.
Minister Morrison: 77 was the number that hasn't changed but as I said earlier we had 12 who are still receiving treatment, 3 who are prepared for medevac and one who has already been medevacked to Port Moresby and another who was being medevacked to Australia.
Journalist: You said yesterday that no refugees had come out from the processing. Has anyone at all come out in the processing? Anyone been rejected, in other words is any processing been finished at all on Manus?
Minister Morrison: Look, not to my knowledge and certainly in terms of positives Michelle, certainly in terms of positives I would have to confirm to you whether there has been, I'd have to confirm that to you.
Journalist: So there are still 1340 people on Manus.
Minister Morrison: Roughly, yes the figure that was reported on Friday which you know is what we do every week that was the population at the centre.
No other questions? Thank you very much for your time.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 at 12:56 AEST