Riot review ‘blames the victims’
Dead Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati. Photo: AAP
An official report into the deadly riot at Manus Island in February identified the alleged killer of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati, but critics say the investigation failed to hold the Department of Immigration to account for its role in the tragedy.
The government-commissioned report singled out a Salvation Army worker as the alleged leader of a fatal attack on Mr Berati, during a night of bloodshed that left 13 other asylum seekers requiring facial reconstructions and 67 injured.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the PNG national hit Mr Berati from behind before others joined in the violence.
“Other individuals including a G4S security contractor, it is alleged, were involved in rushing past him and kicking him and then a rock was dropped on Mr Berati’s head,” he said.
The report, led by former secretary of the Attorney-General’s department, Robert Cornall, claims a protest by asylum seekers prompted a violent series of events that culminated in PNG nationals, expats and police storming the centre and dragging detainees outside to be beaten.
According to the review, no single party was directly to blame for the violence.
The opposing view
But Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles asserts that Mr Cornall’s report shows the Government “dropped the ball”.
“There were numerous warnings provided to the department but most particularly to the minister himself,” he said.
The official report also outlined the process in which G4S evacuated the facility and the PNG police mobile squad took control.
“Without any warning to or arrangement with G4S, the mobile squad pushed over the fence and entered Mike [one of the facility compounds],” the report stated.
An anonymous G4S guard present on the night however suggested to the ABC’s Four Corners that G4S was well aware of what would happen if the PNG police took over.
He claimed that one of his colleagues asked over the radio if they should hand over control to the PNG Police, and that their superior said that they should do so.
“And the person that had asked said: ‘Are you sure, do you know the consequences of that?’, and they said: ‘Yes, hand it over’,” he claimed.
“So it was handed over to the PNG Police, and that’s when the shooting started.”
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison
Report too narrow
When the official investigation was first announced, Rod St George, a former occupational health and safety manager at Manus Island who first raised the alarm of dire conditions at the centre in 2013, criticised the “narrow focus” of the official investigation.
“What the government is doing here is making the inferred statement that [the Department of] Immigration is not to blame, the policy itself is not the issue, the government has no fault in this — it is all security’s fault and the contractor needs to pay the price,” he told New Matilda.
“Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott know that a truly independent review would lay bare the real causes for trouble on Manus — human beings will all react in the same way if they are treated the way those men were treated by the Department of Immigration.”
St George also claimed Cornall was a poor choice to lead the inquiry, given he had overseen the previous year’s investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at Manus Island that had also absolved the Department of Immigration of responsibility.
‘Blaming the victims’
In accepting the recommendations, Mr Morrison said if the asylum seekers had not started the violent protests, Mr Berati would still be alive.
Senator Sarah Hansen Young of the Greens – who are running their own Senate inquiry into the violence – attacked what she described as Scott Morrison’s attempt to “blame the victims”.
“Criticising the very people who had their throats slit by machetes while they ran for their lives was deceitful and grotesquely insensitive.
“The Immigration Minister is desperately trying to blame anyone but himself, even though responsibility for what happened that night falls squarely at his feet.”
One of the key recommendations of the report was the upgrade of “inadequate” security facilities, yet former Manus Island operator G4S had been urgently requesting such upgrades for nine months before Reza Berati’s death, to both the Abbott government and their Labor predecessors.
Minister Morrison approved the upgrades in November, but they still had not been implemented by the time of the protests in mid-February.
Max Opray is an Adelaide-based journalist with experience covering everything from the Arab Spring to the Australian summer