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Morrison: One Dead, Thirteen Seriously Injured In Manus Island Disturbance

5.45pm Update: Morrison Holds Second Press Conference On Manus Island Incident

After a day of confused reports from Papua New Guinea, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, held a second press conference on the overnight incident at Manus Island which resulted in the death of one person.

  • Listen to Morrison (30m)

11.00am – Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that one person is dead after a “serious incident” at Manus Island overnight.

Morrison said “perimeter breaches” occurred at the asylum seeker processing centre over a four hour period. “That incident involved persons at around just after 11 after some demonstrations, noise and various things being able to break through the fence.”

Morrison said 77 people received treatment early this morning. Of these, 40 have been discharged, whilst 22 who suffered minor injuries are still undergoing treatment. He said 13 were seriously injured and one critically. The dead person had a head injury that was sustained outside the processing centre.

  • Listen to Morrison’s press conference (21m)

Transcript of press conference held by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

MORRISON: Thank you for joining me this morning. I can confirm that there was a more serious incident at Manus Island processing centre last night which involved further perimeter breaches. That incident involved persons at around just after 11 after some demonstrations, noise and various things being able to break through the fence. The incident ran to around 2am their time, early this morning. At 3am order was completely restored to the centre. As I noted in my statement, I refer you to the statement which was issued earlier this morning which goes through the key details of the incident as we knew it at the time. At all times the G4S staff who were involved were involved directly in maintaining order within the centre itself and to protect key parts of the infrastructure and accommodation within the centre. The security situation outside the centre was the domain of the PNG police. Now I want to come specifically to the matters of the injuries of those involved because there are some very serious issues there and it is my great regret to report.

There were 77 persons who received treatment since early this morning. 40 of those have since been discharged, 22 suffered minor injuries, and they are also still receiving treatment. There were 13 serious injuries. There was one critical injury and there is one person who is deceased. The deceased person involved a head injury and that person passed away on transfer to the Lorengau Hospital. The injury was sustained outside the centre. The critical injury involves a probable base of skull fracture and that person is being medevacked to Australia. There is a serious injury to one transferee which involves a gunshot wound to the buttock and that person will also be transferred to Australia, I understand, for treatment for their injuries. An air ambulance is already on its way to Manus and a second air ambulance has been arranged and will depart later today from Port Moresby. The gunshot wound occurred also outside the centre itself and I note that there was reports of a gun being fired at around 1am this morning. There are no other reports that we are aware of, of any gunshot wounds or certainly any other reports of gunshots being fired or heard of that we are aware of at this time.

I also want to stress that the actions taken by our people there overnight showed a great deal of courage, showed a great deal of strength, and a great deal of application and determination to maintain a situation which was very tense and very stressful. The people who serve in these centres do so under a great deal of stress and I particularly want to thank all of those who are involved with our service providers and all those who involved with the Immigration department and the IHMS team and they have been up there caring for people all morning.

The news of a death is a great tragedy and our sympathies are extended to the transferees of that person’s family and friends who would have been in the facility as well. This is a tragedy but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk. In those situations our security people need to undertake the tasks that they need to undertake to restore the facility to a place of safety and equally those who are maintaining the safety of the security environment outside the centre need to use their powers and various accoutrements that they have available to them in order to restore in the way that is provided for under PNG law.

So this is a very distressing situation but it is not a situation sadly that was not anticipated. The government has been taking steps over recent weeks to increase our security presence at that centre. The government has learnt the lessons from previous attempts to take down centres on Nauru which were very successful where those centres were completely destroyed. On this occasion the centre has not been destroyed, the centre will be able to resume operations as it has this morning. Breakfast has been served.

I should also note that the vast majority of transferees in that facility did not participate in that protest last night, that disturbance. They were removed for their safety to the oval just down the road and non-essential staff who were running the centre were also evacuated prior to things escalating last night. So this is a very unfortunate incident, this is a very tragic incident at least in one case. What the government will be doing today and over the course of the days that follow is will be updating information as it becomes available to us and we can confirm that information. There are all sorts of rumours that are put around in this environment and sometimes those rumours are designed to create further instability and further unrest. The government won’t be entertaining those we will be seeking to provide the correct information once that information can be confirmed. So again I want to thank the staff that have been hard at work trying to protect people overnight and trying to save people’s lives overnight. I want to thank the PNG Government for their cooperation who were part of the command centre last night in handling this very difficult situation. I have been in contact with our High Commissioner there this morning. I have also put in a call to the Immigration Minister for Papua New Guinea and I expect to be speaking with him later today about all of these matters. I have also before this press conference contacted the Opposition spokesperson on Immigration to brief him on these issues as well and will continue to do that over the course of the day.

The government understands that there will be those that will seek to take down our policies, to take down our processing centres, to try and destroy the regime. We have put in place to deal with this very difficult issue of illegal arrivals to Australia. What they will find is a government that has a very strong resolve to continue with these policies and to resist any effort to do just that. In this case this incident has had a tragic outcome and that is not an outcome we wish to see repeated in any way, shape or form, and the appropriate investigations and inquiries will be launched into those matters.

But it is very important that in our centres that we provide the support that is necessary to ensure these places are safe, that they are secure, where people are appropriately cared for. They will have frustrations about being in a centre that they don’t wish to be in because they wanted a very different outcome than being in either Manus Island or Nauru for that matter.

But that is the situation in which they find themselves, their claims will be processed there according to the policies that have been put in place and we will continue to manage this issue going forward in the way that we have. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: Were police and locals involved in attacking the asylum seekers at the centre?

MORRISON: G4S I understand are issuing a statement very shortly on that point that refutes those claims.

JOURNALIST: Was a generator failure what sparked the incident?

MORRISON: The incident was a rolling incident that takes on from last night and some earlier protests which were largely peaceful at the centre going back over a number of weeks, so this has been if you like a rolling series of protests orchestrated by people within this centre. That is of no surprise to us, that is why the government was increasing security at the centre, and that’s why, frankly, we were able to, last night and the night before, able to prevent destruction of the centre and to ensure that it was able to operate today.

Now in the case of the one individual who is deceased that is a tragic outcome which no one would welcome and is one that we express our sincere regret and sympathy for.

JOURNALIST: So do you feel the incident demonstrates a lack of authority at the site?

MORRISON: No, these environments can be very difficult and when the previous government put the processing centre in place they were very well aware of that as well. When we came to office one of the first things we did was put a force protection review in place through General Campbell which was to assess a lot of these security issues. In situations like this, if you’re able to restore order promptly which was done within a matter of hours and ensure the facility is maintained and able to resume operations then that is an outcome which is positive.

But clearly the outcome where someone has absconded, gone outside the safety of that facility and put themselves at risk, resulting in such a tragic outcome is terrible.

JOURNALIST: Do we know where the demonstrators got the weapons from?

MORRISON: I haven’t reported on the presence of any weapons.

JOURNALIST: Excuse me, refugee advocates have said that people in Mike compound saw mobs of 30 to 40 strong police and local PNG people coming through with weapons. Are you going to be investigating that even if they tell you that in fact there were no PNG or locals involved in the attack?

MORRISON: Well it’s not just G4s, my statement early today made it very clear there were no PNG police inside the centre last night. That is the report that was provided to me overnight. That is the information that I have available to me. So the suggestion that PNG police were in the centre is not correct on the information that I have.

G4S have advised that there was no one who came from outside and sought to disrupt or attack people on the inside which lead to the perimeter fence being breached.

JOURNALIST: Is it true someone was thrown from the roof?

MORRISON: I have no report on that whatsoever and I would add this word of caution to all of the reports and rumours that are being put around by people today. We will work through the details of what took place last night and I will report on those details, whether it’s here or in Canberra later this afternoon or elsewhere over the course of the week and we will confirm what took place.

But I would caution people to be very wary of unsubstantiated reports that may be put into the public domain.

JOURNALIST: What will be the future of the people at that centre, how will they be processed and then let go, is the centre viable given incidents such as this, and what is the implications does this incident have on our relationship with PNG?

MORRISON: Well the centre is viable, the centre is operating this morning. People who have come to Australia illegally by boat will be processed offshore, there is no change to that policy. The people who are in that centre will be processed in PNG according to PNG law. That’s the policy, there is no change to the policy and our relationship with PNG is as strong as it always has been.

JOURNALIST: Excuse me, what about our relationship with Indonesia? I’m sure you would be familiar with Dr Natalegawa’s comments…

MORRISON: Well today’s incidents have nothing to do with our relationship with Indonesia, I’m here reporting on a very serious incident in relation to Manus Island and that’s what I’m happy to discuss this morning.

JOURNALIST: What is the government going to do to prevent this happening in the future?

MORRISON: Pardon?

JOURNALIST: What is the government going to do to prevent this happening in the future?

MORRISON: Well what we’ve been doing over the last few months. I mean the risk of these things occurring in these centres is always present and what you do is you take steps to ensure the security is in place to ensure that you can deal with any threat that may present.

And how that was done last night was done to ensure that the centre was able to be maintained and that many, many people were able to be removed to safety. And those who remained in the centre were able to be brought under control and the centre was able to be restored by 2am so that’s a period of approximately 3 hours that this incident took place.

You can’t remove the risk or threat of incidents like this but you can prepare to deal with them when they arise.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned earlier that you believe that the government was aware that this was sort of brewing over time, so surely more could have been done to prevent these two incidents happening over the space of 48 hours?

MORRISON: Well we have put a large number of additional security people in place last week and if that hadn’t been done then I think that the incident that we saw over the last two nights could have resulted in even more unfortunate result.

JOURNALIST: How did someone come to be shot in the buttocks and who shot them.

MORRISON: Well we don’t have the answers to those questions at present and I can confirm that someone was shot in the buttocks. It did occur outside the centre and how that occurred and particularly the circumstances of the individual who was deceased who died as a result of an injury, a head wound. That is also not clear at the moment and that incident in particular will obviously be the subject of an inquiry.

JOURNALIST: You said there were no weapons inside the compound so.

MORRISON: I made no comment on weapons, one way or the other.

JOURNALIST: But you said that someone was shot.

MORRISON: I said that took place outside the centre.

JOURNALIST: So what happened there.

MORRISON: Outside the centre, where that event took place and that will obviously be the subject of an investigation into that person’s death.

JOURNALIST: Minister…

JOURNALIST: Minister, sorry (inaudible)

MORRISON: We’ll come over here then we’ll…

JOURNALIST: Minister, will the Federal Government continue to send West Papuan refugees to Manus Island for resettlement when PNG has now got an extradition treaty with Indonesia.

MORRISON: Well, look I think that is going into other issues beyond the scope of this press conference this morning

JOURNALIST: Minister, you said that detainees or you said that transferees put themselves at great danger by leaving the centre, can you explain what you meant by that?

MORRISON: Well the centre is built to ensure people remain safe within that centre, I don’t know if you’ve visited Manus Island or you’ve been to PNG, but we have built that complex in a way where people are most secure and most safe inside the centre, so if people chose to remove themselves from that centre then they are obviously putting themselves at a place of much greater risk and in an environment like that where there is violent behaviour on the part of those who are breaching the perimeter fence and going out of the centre then this is a disorderly environment in which there is always great risk.

JOURNALIST: Minister (inaudible)

MORRISON: When there are people who are charged under Papuan New Guinean law to maintain law and order in that situation, now if you behave in an unruly way and in a disorderly way then you subject yourself to the response of law enforcement.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that any of the injuries that you’ve described were inflicted by police or locals around the centre?

MORRISON: Well, as I’ve said I have no information to confirm how the injuries took place. I do know in the cases of the most serious ones, particularly in the case of the deceased person, their injuries occurred and the shot being fired was outside of the centre. But who and when and where, that information is not available to me.

Journalist: There are reports that tensions have been fuelling with locals around Manus Island for some time, has the government been aware of this or tried to put any measures in place?

MORRISON: Well the government is regularly in contact with locals on Manus Island, it’s part of the process of managing that centre, there have been a range of issues going back over several years now and those issues are typically managed and resolved by engaging with the local community and that’s the way we will continue to manage these issues, but the reports about the conduct of any local Manutians at the moment are the subject of rumour and not the subject of any sort of substantiated report or fact.

JOURNALIST: And what’s the latest with the government’s negotiations with the PNG government about permanent resettlement of those asylum seekers.

MORRISON: Well, they’re ongoing.

JOURNALIST: Will there be an enquiry into the burns at sea claims.

MORRISON: Sorry?

JOURNALIST: Will there be an enquiry into the burns. .

MORRISON: Well again, we’re here today to talk about the Manus Island incident. I have addressed that question in other forms and in other places and my response is the same.

JOURNALIST: You said that there would be an enquiry into exactly what happened outside the centre, will you make everything that is discovered in that enquiry public, particularly who fired this shot?

MORRISON: Well, first of all this took place in Papua New Guinea and any such enquiry would be done under Papua New Guinean law by Papua New Guinean authorities so that is really a question that is best directed to the government of Papua New Guinea and I think at this stage what’s important is that we deal with the initial situation there on Manus Island.

There are still people who are being treated we have Immigration and G4S and other service provider staff who have been under great strain now for two nights running and their welfare is also paramount to me and as I noted in my statement earlier today I am very pleased that they are all safe and are all accounted for. We are still not in a position to account for every transferee which is in that centre and I hope to provide further information on that today, but until I have that actual face-to-photo confirmation, then I don’t think it is wise for me to be speculating about that.

JOURNALIST: If tensions escalated, at what point does the government say it’s untenable to put asylum seekers on Manus Island?

MORRISON: The government’s resolve when it comes to our policies I think is very clear and that resolve won’t break.

JOURNALIST: Even in light of a fatality and serious injuries?

MORRISON: The government’s resolve is absolute.

JOURNALIST: Is the government prepared to hear reports by the UN and Amnesty International around the toxicity of the environment around… (inaudible).

MORRISON: I meet regularly with human rights groups and others who are given the opportunity regularly to visit the centres, and parliamentarians and others and where people have constructive suggestions and observations that can be substantiated then I’m always happy to address those and have done on quite a number of occasions.

JOURNALIST: Minister …(inaudible)

MORRISON: Are there any other questions on this incident because we have to return to Canberra to receive further briefings.

JOURNALIST: Minister, I beg your pardon. You said the government’s resolve is absolute. Are there any circumstances under which you would consider revising or reviewing the turn back the boats policy and measures.

MORRISON: The government’s position is absolute, we’ve made that clear over a very long period of time and it’s the resolve of the government that has been the major change in what we have seen occurring with the illegal arrival of boats to Australia. Let’s not forget that over 1100 people died on those boats and for the last more than eight weeks not one single people smuggling venture has been successful in getting to Australia because the suite of policies that this government has put in place. These policies will be tested, these policies will be challenged, they’ll be criticized, people will seek to undermine them, people will seek to tear detention centres down as they have done in the past, people will make false and wild allegations about the conduct of our officers in the maritime environment and any number of things. But what those seeking to send boats to Australia need to understand and those who may seek to get on one of those boats is this government’s resolve is absolute.

Thank you.

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