On Friday detainees in the Australian asylum seeker processing centre on Nauru, started a riot which destroyed much of the centre, with the rebuilding cost estimated at around 60 million Australian dollars, and tomorrow Australia's Immigration Minister Tony Burke is schedule to travel there to inspect the damage for himself. Acting President of Nauru David Adeang says a disagreement over the recruitment of young Nauruan men as Police Reservists is the reason why Police's Commissioner, Australian Federal Policeman Richard Britten was suspended. The opposition group says its unclear why the decision was actually made., but says when they went to the local media to voice their concerns, Mr Adeang blocked their interview from going to air.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Mathew Batsiua, Nauru opposition MP
BATSIUA: Yeah that's right I mean we're not sure the actual reason because it's never been made clear by the government why Richard was suspended prior to the riots occurring on Friday, so it was news to us when he mentioned on the news yesterday that Richard was suspended because he refused the call from government to get in more reservists to help the police. I mean that is certainly news to us. It's the first time a reason has been given to why he was suspended. But it doesn't make sense to us because we understand that Richard was suspended half an hour before the riot commenced and the call for reservists occurred during the riot. So how can someone be suspended for something that occurred after he was suspended?
COUTTS: Why do you think he's been suspended, Australian Federal Policeman Richard Britten?
BATSIUA: Well we're not really sure and I can't speculate, but the only thing that we raised ... in my interview there was blocked ... is that we questioned the wisdom why the head of police would be suspended half an hour before the riots commenced when it seems we would need the chief of police to be in employment and leading the police response, not have government dismiss him or suspend him as part of something as ... occurring.
COUTTS: And censoring is that a big issue on Nauru, is this the first time this kind of censorship has occurred?
BATSIUA: Look there has been some sort of censoring in the past whenever these people are in government and it's occurred again yesterday. And that was very disappointing because I did quite a lengthy interview with the Nauru media yesterday, and I was told later that evening I was told by the media that they'd been ordered by the acting president David Adeang not to air the incident. I'm just dumbfounded, I'm not sure why, but to censor media is a very dangerous trend and unfortunately we've seen it again from this group of people who are in government in Nauru this time.
COUTTS: How would you assess the performance of Richard Britten?
BATSIUA: Look Richard is a very highly qualified police officer who's been with the AFP for many, many years, and he's been the fourth rotating AFP officer who's come into the Nauru police force to head it at this time when we're redeveloping the Nauru police force. He has been an outstanding employee in our view for the time when we were in government for the last four years from 2007 to 2011. He has been exceptional and it's unfortunate the government deemed it fit to relieve him half an hour before such a major disturbance was about to occur. That was very unfortunate ...
COUTTS: If the outgoing or the suspended Richard Britten was opposed to setting up a reserve force for the police, whose idea was it?
BATSIUA: Look the issue of the reservists was as we understand it only surfaced during the riots. Richard Britten was suspended prior to the riots occurring. So for Mr Adeang to now mention that that was the reason just doesn't add up, doesn't make sense because Richard was suspended prior to the call coming in from the government, not from the police, from the government to call in reservists.
COUTTS: Well getting to the issue of the asylum centre on Nauru the opposition and you, for or against it?
BATSIUA: We've always been in support of it, we were in government and I was a member of caucus when the Australian government last year in August ... no worries with the centre being in Nauru.
COUTTS: And even so after this riot and the manner in which the asylum seekers were being housed there?
BATSIUA: Look there are issues now in terms of time to get the accommodation prepared and rebuilt. We think that the centre should remain in Nauru despite these problems, but there are lessons to be learnt from all of this. The one thing that we questioned initially was how can a riot of this magnitude occur? i think there are lessons to be learnt from anybody, including the government of Australia, because we understand that they employ people, they contract people to be here in Nauru and their job is to monitor the mood of the camp. We've got international health medical services, there's a lot of mental health specialists that are here to keep track of the mental state of people to see that there are people that are thinking about stuff to harm themselves or to engage in these types of behaviour, and we've questioned why these were not picked up and the government was warned that these types of issues may occur. The security personnel we understand gathered a lot of intelligence on a daily basis to assess the mood of the camp and the mood of the people to ensure that responses can be in place and we can act and respond quickly to situations and we question why nothing of this magnitude was forewarned. But there's also lessons to be learned by the government as well because it was clear that there was a lot of people commanding a lot of responses during the night of the riot, so that to have politicians wading into security issues, whereas the .. of police who's in charge of the security should be the person leading the responses to the riot. So you don't have politicians making security decisions in essence. So there's a lot of lessons to be learnt and I think we can do a lot of things better to be able to manage the facility successfully into the future.
COUTTS: It's alleged that the spark for the riot was when the asylum seekers themselves heard that the decision had been made that if they were granted asylum they would be permanently settled in Papua New Guinea and they wouldn't be going to Australia. Are you in support of that policy that they be resettled in Papua New Guinea?
BATSIUA: Well our view is that it's a combination of things and it's possible that that's one of them, one of the reasons. But we don't think that's entirely the reason, we think a host of reasons. ... over there asking to stage a peaceful protest outside of the centre prior to the riot and they were declined by the government, so this could have been also a reason. But I think it's a combination of reasons but it's a pity that these people who have been employed to gauge the mood of the camp, to gauge the mental state of the people, did not pick this up early and forewarn the Nauruan authorities so they could better respond to it and be responsive quickly.
COUTTS: And there are allegations that in some asylum centres that the inmates are being treated badly among themselves, allegations of rape and brutality and things like that. Is anything being done to make sure that that doesn't happen and continue in Nauru?
BATSIUA: Well I'm not sure that it has happened in Nauru but like I said there are a lot of people employed to ensure that the welfare of the people in our centres here in Nauru is being taken care of. There's a lot of medical personnel contracted as service providers in the centres, there's a lot of security personnel from Australia and also here in Nauru being contracted to ensure the security of the people in the centre that's being looked after to ensure their safety. So I'm unsure if these things are going on in our centres in Nauru. But all that we can say is that we have a lot of people engaged to ensure the security and safety and welfare of the people in the Nauruan centres that they are being looked after.
COUTTS: So now it's just up to the Nauru courts to process at least 152 that have been charged and I also understand that bail has been refused, what do you know about that?
BATSIUA: Yeah yesterday the courts started going through all the charges, there's a lot of people, so I think it will take a few days to get through all of that. But at the moment bail is being refused so they are being kept in the correction centre as we speak and they are being looked after best we can by correction people. Also lessons learned here is that the impact on our correction centres is immense when something like this occurs because the fallout is we have people in our correction centres and there is an overcrowding issue that occurs because our centres are not built to cater for such a large number of people being taken to the correction centre at one time.