Federal politics: full coverageMark Kenny: Plain speaking on Morrison becomes nonsensePolitics Live: Judith Ireland from Parliament
The measure of a modern minister is the number of words he or she expends in the effort to avoid revealing anything of substance.
Minister No Wimp Morrison was able to get away – Scott free, you might say – with the daily double on Monday: offering few words and almost no insight on his amazing slow-motion reversal last week on the matter of who did what within or without the Manus Island detention centre on the night one man died and scores were injured.
Mr Morrison’s great good fortune was that his inquisitor – Richard Marles of the Labor Party – didn’t seem to have his heart in it.
This may have something to do with the fact that Mr Marles is the immigration spokesman of the party that, in its desperate dying days of government last year, tried to save itself by re-establishing Manus Island as a detention centre. Prime minister Kevin Rudd, it might be recalled, reportedly wanted at the time to create ”an island from hell”.
It’s difficult to climb on to a high horse when you have chosen the slippery slope and come a gutser.
Nevertheless, Mr Morrison had managed to draw a bullseye on his own head by declaring within hours of an Iranian man dying at Manus Island that it appeared the death had occurred outside the centre. The unmistakeable sub-text was that the man had escaped and thus, somehow, had contributed to his own tragedy.
Bit by bit, Mr Morrison was required to inch away from his initial declaration. But how did it take almost five days to perform the full climb-down; the admission that the deceased died in the centre and presumably had not escaped at all?
Despite four questions on Monday from Mr Marles, we still do not know how Mr Morrison got his first and subsequent information, who he might have spoken to during that time or how a minister of the Commonwealth could have been so spectacularly misled for so long.
Having failed to get anything useful out of Mr Morrison, Mr Marles wanted to know who was in charge of the Manus Island centre, and how often Mr Morrison had spoken to him before and after the asylum seeker’s death.
Mr Morrison, possibly sensing this was getting close to the nub of the matter, employed the avoidance skill of a stunt driver and the guile of a conjurer.
The operations manager, he said, was an appointee of the chief migration officer of the Papua New Guinean government.
He had met this (unnamed) operations manager when he had visited the centre from opposition ”and I met him personally when I was there and visiting that centre in September of last year and on a regular basis my offices and my department regularly engage with that operations manager and I maintain that contact through the department …”
And then the minister veered from the question altogether.
”This centre is run by the government of Papua New Guinea,” he declared a touch triumphantly. ”The Australian government supports the government of Papua New Guinea in running that centre through the arrangements which were established under the former government and we work within those arrangements.”
With that, he sat down.
And Mr Marles couldn’t, apparently, think of another thing to ask. Nothing at all.
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