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A Failure of Moral Leadership

The recent review into the events on 16th-18th February at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre that led to the death of 23 year old Iranian Asylum seeker, Reza Barati, raises several questions about the responsibilities incumbent upon the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and its minister, Scott Morrison.

But, more importantly, it also raises questions of political leadership generally.

Commissioned as it was by the Department, the report has been criticised as short on detail and containing little that had not been reported already by New Matilda, the ABC, the Guardian and Fairfax. According to Max Chalmers of New Matilda, the report by former Robert Cornall is a farce.

Despite acknowledging serious deficiencies in the treatment of detainees including the overcrowded conditions, failure to process claims and failing to give adequate answers to questions raised by detainees as to their future, the report offers little by way of corrective action. It does, however, demonstrate a direct correlation between the tension, anger and frustration which led to the riots and the Australian Government’s asylum seeker policies.

Those policies include being sent to Papua New Guinea in the first place and having no chance of being resettled in Australia. It also cites the length of time taken to determine their status as refugees, the length of time spent at Manus and information concerning their resettlement in New Guinea as contributing factors. “Cornall’s most recent review indicates that the frustration and uncertainty faced by asylum seekers awaiting processing, as well as their despair at the prospect of never being resettled in Australia, led to protests and an antagonistic relationship between asylum seekers and locals employed in the centre,” Max Chalmers writes.

Let us consider that prior to the riots, not one of the 1340 detainees’ claims had been processed. Consider that detainees had no idea how long they would be kept in the overcrowded compounds. Consider the heat, humidity, inadequate hygiene, the mental anguish, the depression and the likelihood of racial tension both within and outside the camp. Consider the lack of information being provided. Any one of these factors was enough to cause disquiet. Put together, they became a ticking time bomb about which warnings were issued to the department.

Cornall’s review is disturbing on several levels. It confirms earlier media reports of the involvement of GS4 staff, PNG Police, PNG nationals and Australian expats. It confirms that detainees not involved in the riots were dragged from their beds and beaten. Eyewitness reports confirm Reza Barati was set upon by up to ten people including one PNG Salvation Army staff member and beaten mercilessly. The PNG police are still conducting their own investigation into the riots and now claim they are hamstrung by a lack of cooperation “from all involved.”

The role of the previous government in this tragic event cannot be ignored. Kevin Rudd’s decision to reopen the Manus Island detention centre was political. He acted in a manner consistent with a leader trying to deflect criticism from an opposition that smelt blood. He was trying to deny the opposition traction on a highly toxic issue in an upcoming election. He decided on the policy to permanently deny asylum seekers who arrived by boat, settlement in Australia. That decision was also political. But the then opposition, now the government, were happy to go along with it. They would have done it themselves anyway. The transfer of the first detainees was swift and poorly prepared. It was a failure of moral leadership.

This was not the first time Rudd acted in haste. The present government is conducting a Royal Commission into the pink bats fiasco which led to the death of four workers. That earlier decision to set up the roof insulation programme was also poorly prepared. The present government is now spending millions of dollars designed primarily to embarrass the previous government.

The parallels between the Manus Island riots and the pink bats fiasco where four young men died cannot be ignored. Former ministers Peter Garrett, Mark Abib and Kevin Rudd have been called to account at that hearing. Similarly, a man has died while under the protection of the Immigration minister, Scott Morrison. Why is he not being called to account? The best ‘mean culpa’ Scott Morrison has been able to offer is his ‘great regret’. Morrison added that it was, “terrible, tragic and distressing.”

By any reasonable measure, ministerial responsibility demands Scott Morrison’s resignation. In his statement following the release of the Cornall review he acknowledged the delay in setting up CCTV, better lighting and fencing that he had approved in November last year. Even here, he could not resist firing off a broadside at the previous government who he claimed had done nothing. He too, was playing politics. He has given no explanation as to why, as late as February, still no asylum seekers claims had been processed. Why was there such a long delay? Was the Department of Immigration and Border Control deliberately delaying the process? Were they deliberately leaving detainees to believe that they could be in detention for years as a means of encouraging them to return home? Are not the actions of the department worthy of an inquiry that puts them under the spotlight? This too, is a failure of moral leadership.

Each of the recommendations that have been made in Robert Cornall’s review begs the questions: Why is it there? Why has it not been shut down? Why do we have offshore processing?

For a government so obsessed by waste and so keen to save money, the economics alone should tell them this is bad policy. The inhumane treatment should tell them this is immoral. History will record this period as one of our lowest, rivaling our treatment of indigenous Australians over the last century. Media attention on the pink bats Royal Commission will eventually subside, regardless of the outcome. It is a cheap political exercise. The issue of asylum seekers in offshore detention will not subside. It will remain a ticking time bomb.

Those in the broader community who have supported the policies of both governments should also accept their share of the responsibility. Politicians are weak and feeble people who thrive on what they perceive to be the mood of the people. They are opportunists ever ready to seize upon, and exploit, issues they believe will further their interests. The people who support offshore processing should hang their heads in shame. They, along with John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are all indirectly responsible for the death of Reza Barati. Bill Shorten’s failure to raise one question this week in parliament about Robert Cornall’s review indicts him as well.

They have all failed in moral leadership.


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  1. john921fraser


    Its just as much a failure of Australians to stand up for a fair go.

    The Americanisation of Australia ….. brought to you by the American Murdoch.

  2. John

    Reblogged this on jpratt27 and commented:
    Moral leadership lacking in Global leadership.

  3. DanDark

    …..Seeking Freedom…..

    A young man Reza Barati
    Who left his wrecked home land
    To seek a life, from fear and persecution
    He was talented, and quiet, kept to himself
    He would have contributed
    to our country greatly
    He came here for peace and a life
    To find his way out of the repression
    In his own wrecked homeland,
    He was a bright young man,
    that had a small dream
    To live a long life with freedom
    ……..Rest In Peace Reza…….

    Our asylum seekers are dying at Manus
    We all need to ask why
    Scott Morrison is still in charge
    Of the most vulnerable people in this world?

  4. Kaye Lee

    I am completely against offshore processing for all the obvious reasons. That being said, I am amazed that no-one is asking why people were transferred to a facility that was not ready to accept them? Surely you build the camp first? The conditions on Manus Island were not up to scratch to house animals let alone human beings. And to then remove all support from these people – psychologists, doctors, social workers, legal aid, the Red Cross – is just sheer bastardry.

    Under international law, Australia retains responsibility for what happens on Manus Island, and remains jointly and severally liable with Papua New Guinea for any human rights violations that occur. This is known as the law of state responsibility. We can share responsibility, but we can’t devolve it.

    International law makes very clear that a country may not transfer an asylum seeker to another country unless the conditions there meet certain human rights standards. Following its monitoring visit to Manus Island in October 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded that:

    … the current policies, operational approaches and harsh physical conditions … do not comply with international standards.

    The UNHCR report found, among other things, that holding asylum seekers on Manus Island constituted arbitrary and mandatory detention under international law. The detention centre also did not provide safe or humane living conditions.

    Tony Abbott has said that we don’t want a wimp defending our borders. But nor do we want blood on our hands. As the European Court of Human Rights has stated:

    … the end does not justify the use of no matter what means.

  5. mars08


    Its just as much a failure of Australians to stand up for a fair go.

    So true. We have come to this point because both major parties (with the help of a witless MSM) are intent on securing the bogan vote in the marginal seats. And the electorate was happy to oblige.

  6. Stephen Tardrew

    Which ever way you look at it this is a blight upon the Australia I grew up in and loved. I am so ashamed that this country of justice and a fair go could degenerate to this. There is no way I can express the pain I feel that citizens in this country think that this treatment of our fellow human beings is acceptable. I am absolutely disgusted in all of those who support this program in the name of democracy and a fair go. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves.

    What if these were your kids escaping an invasion of Australia and this was how they were treated. You my friends are a bunch of hypocritical cowards. I know it won’t help but I need to get some of this burden off of my shoulders.

    Kaye they do not give a crap about the ends or the means as they have so obviously demonstrated. Morality? Bah what is that? Australia you are sinking into a pit into which you really do not want to go. Wake up before it is too late. Abbott and Co are rushing into a void of injustice and inhumanity.

    Do you really want to go with them?

  7. mars08

    Stephen Tardrew:

    …Australia you are sinking into a pit into which you really do not want to go. Wake up before it is too late…

    To be fair this moral decline predates the current government. Howard, Rudd and Gillard all did their bit to promote fear and poison the soul of this nation.

  8. Ian Joyner

    I don’t think the similarity between Berati’s death on Manus Island and the pink batt deaths is so clear. I think Morrison is far more directly responsible for Berati’s death than you can hold Rudd, Garrett, and Abib in the pink batts scheme. After all governments initiate programs and does that mean that the government is directly responsible for anyone who comes to harm because of that scheme? No, it is more up to the implementors of the scheme – those who provide the labour must ensure the protections are in place for that labour – even so accidents still occur – that is the meaning of accident.

    However, in the offshore detention case, we have a clear case of government trying to fob off the responsibility to someone else when this really is a direct responsibility of government and, yes, Mr Morrison himself.

    Another area where government causes deaths is in war. Remember Howard got Australia involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and several deaths have occurred. Many of us took to the streets to say “No War” at the time. Yet government does not seem to take any direct blame for the deaths of these young men and perhaps we should question that they should.

  9. John Kelly

    Reblogged this on THE VIEW FROM MY GARDEN and commented:

    Each of the recommendations that have been made in Robert Cornall’s review begs the questions: Why is it there? Why has it not been shut down? Why do we have offshore processing?

  10. Stephen Tardrew


    You know I agree however there is something really dangerous about this mob that is willing to push to the absolute limits. How much further can they undermine democracy? Given the opportunity this lot will not stop.

  11. Kaye Lee

    I taught at a boys high school for a while where 800 young men were released from the incarceration of the classroom into the playground each day. These boys had nothing to fear (other than exams I spose)…they came to school each day and then returned to their homes, enjoying the freedom of youth – a time with few responsibilities and the world as their oyster. There were no specific tensions or concerns amongst the cohort but inevitably, when you put that many adolescent males together, there were occasional fights. Testosterone can be an ugly thing.

    Just what did they expect to happen when they locked up over 1300 single males in squalor, inflicting sensory deprivation, and removing all hope, when all they had done was ask for our help?

  12. DanDark

    They are there so mainstream Australia do not see the inhumane treatment
    that is inflicted on them, or they might NOT agree with this heinous policy
    They are not criminals, that need locked up, they have committed no crime
    they are seeking asylum..labels like transferees etc
    are to make these people not human
    they are a number or a label,,
    its the way gov dehumanize these vunerable people seeking safety

    After WW2 the german public were taken and shown Hitlers concentration camps
    Most germans had no idea of the inhumane existence these “prisoners”
    lived in and what heinous and barbaric acts that were inflicted on people in their camps

    Sadly,history always has a way of repeating it self though

  13. Stef Daniels

    Does anyone honestly believe that #BlockTheBudget and #DismissTonyAbbott, along with the numerous Independant Media sites will actually make a difference? I hope and pray that Tony Abbott is out by Christmas. Is this the way it’s going to go down ?? Or will The PUP relent through financial/business pressure, giving Tony the much needed supply for his budget and then everyone gets screwed over..

    It makes me wonder… about what type of future I would like for the generations ahead. The selective few ruling for themselves and their mates who supported them, enamored with their ‘trickle-down sharing’ mentality.

    Or a more supporting society, where those are not left behind, through mental health, poverty, homelessness and unemployment. Forcing someone to live without for 6mths is cruel and who thought out that plan. How nasty is that..!! Asking the miners to pay fair royalties on OUR Natural Resources, instead of subsidising fuel bills for miners, increasing the excise on car owners… makes NO SENSE.

    The carbon tax has begun reducing our emissions, yet we want to scrap it and move away from what the rest of the world is doing… That is so dumb, it beggars belief. WE are being taken back to the stoneage by this man, in ways of enlightenment, science, welfare and ethically. Our name is shit throughout the region. What an achievement by a man in such a short period of time.. it’s time to correct the steering in this wretched ship, back on course.

    I suppose we will see how it goes… strap yourselves in, come along for the ride..

  14. john921fraser


    @Stef Daniels

    Keep a close eye on Clive Palmer.

    Murdochs 50 year old money losing rag is attacking him and has a report on Packer and Stokes attacking him ……. actually all of Murdochs trash is attacking Clive.

    Things are developing ….. as they say.

    Me I like Clive.

    My enemy's enemy is my friend.

  15. mars08


    Me I like Clive.

    My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

    Until he too becomes your enemy….

  16. john921fraser



    I will deal with that when the time comes.

    For now …… much better to go with Clive.

    A bit like the opposite of Hanson …. but still the same number (or more) people going along with Clive.

    In fact Clive is looking like the only true conservative in the current parliament.

  17. Stef Daniels


    Is Clive going to be the 100Lb Gorilla, which no-one can handle… taking anyone and everyone down with him, if he feels he’s losing everything..

    Desperate Men do desperate things !! The only thing I can see here… it shit loads of collateral damage left in his wake..

  18. john921fraser


    @Stef Daniels

    Then its a toss up as to who will drag Australia down the most.

    My monies on Abbott.

    Clive is seriously pissed with the LNP and whilst he will look after his own interests the LNP will not be seen to be giving anything to Clive.

    That leaves Clive as a free agent to pick and choose his battles.

    A win/win for Labor and the Greens.

  19. Stephen Tardrew


    The way things are going pissing off Murdoch may be the best play for Clive which will set him apart from Labor and the LNP.

    If only Labor had the guts to get in there, gloves off, and have a ding dong battle with Uriah Heap and Scrooge Mc Rabbit the political tone would flow in a new direction..

    Labor could not be so stupid as to let Clive steel the fighting high ground from under them.

    Oops wait a minute maybe the could.

    If Labor do not attack Murdoch now they will lose so much creditability that Clive will walk away with the lollies and brownie points.

    Big scary Murdoch? Suicidal Clive Palmer?

    Nah big fraidy cat Labor.

  20. Stephen Tardrew


    Re-your last post.

    This is a double edged sword for Labor. It could well be a lose, lose if they don’t show a bit of spine.

  21. kathysutherland2013

    I keep asking myself, in despair, who gives a damn? Only naive idealists like me and those who blog on AIMN? I am so ashamed of our previous and current governments for using people’s lives and freedoms as instruments in a nasy political game.

    The Labor Opposition has recently announced that it will continue off-shore “processing” (isn’t that a horrible word?) if it gets back into power. Not much in the way of humanity there!

  22. Stephen Tardrew

    We know that Kath but we cannot afford to leave this lot in even if Labor is compromised. There is always Greens and independents in the Senate to help keep them accountable.

  23. kathysutherland2013

    Yes, you’re right, Andrew. Just having a very negative day! There does seem to be more humanity in the Senate.

  24. mars08

    Any incoming Labor government will leave the asylum seeker policies exactly as they are. Labor has got itself well and truly wedged on this question. Change will only come if the public demands it… and without moral leader, that’s unlikely to happen.

  25. Peter Garcia-Webb

    There is a failure, but it is more a failure to be truthful than a failure of moral leadership. Scott Morrison has one desire; to stop the boats at any cost to asylum seekers. In that at least he does tell the truth, irrespective of whether his actions are either moral or ethical.
    After that he misleads, denies the truth, misrepresents events and does all he can to deter any meaningful criticism of Government policy. It is more than simply lying; the failure can be restated as the positive adoption of a policy of deceit.
    In my view simply stating that there is a failure of moral leadership is to play into Scott Morrison’s blood soaked hands. Where is the passion? Where is the objection to holding children is disgraceful conditions of uncertainty behind razor wire? Where is the accusation of deliberately causing mental illness. Where is the question of whether Scott Morrison is guilty of torture?
    Yes, Scott Morrison should resign.And the conditions under which asylum seekers eke out their miserable lives should be referred to the International Court.

  26. Stef Daniels

    @Peter I too, feel the necessary accountability that is sadly missing, from both the Opposition and the MSM, over the appalling treatment of vulnerable people who arrive in Australia’s hands seeking asylum. I find it staggering that TA can honestly claim to practice Christian ideals, while at the same time, ruthlessly imprison and torture humans to prove a point. He seems to be clearly able to sleep soundly at night, while the oppression happens under his watch. That’s not forgetting Morrison’s actions, while delighting in his secret-squirreled plan of ‘Operation Sovereign Murders’, which is in full swing. ‘Out of sight’ and ‘Out of mind’ of most of the Australian public, who either don’t know or don’t care..

    I can only hope with huge faith, that the Australian public are/will wake up and smell what he is spinning, with enough time to prevent any long term damage to this wonderful country.

    Faith that Australians will ignore, bypass, or dispute the propaganda machine of the Murdoch Evil Empire, instead wishing to further their own knowledge to understand what is actually going on, causing the tide to turn against this pathetic excuse for an Australian Government. Some think it’s possible —>

  27. John Kelly

    Two self immolations and one murder so far on Scott Morrison’s watch. And that’s what we actually know. There are claims of asylum seekers being lost at sea while being forcibly repatriated to remote Indonesian Islands by the Royal Australian Navy. But the Minister is warning his critics against making “assumptions” about what led Sri Lankan man Leorsin Seemanpillai to take his life.

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