No Australian policy to stop reporters on Manus doing their job | Pacific Beat

No Australian policy to stop reporters on Manus doing their job

No Australian policy to stop reporters on Manus doing their job

Updated 27 February 2014, 18:18 AEDT

There is no Australian government policy designed to hamper journalists covering the Manus island asylum seeker facility story.

That's according to Australia's parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Queensland Senator Brett Mason.
His denial comes in the wake of several incidents on the PNG island in which both Australian and local reporters have had police and security guards demand they delete photographs and video footage from their cameras.
One reporter was allegedly told by a security guard that their instructions to do this came from Australia.
But Senator Mason tells Bruce Hill that the government has been quite open about the incident which saw dozens of asylum seekers injured, and left one Iranian man dead.
MASON: The Minister, Scott Morrison, has been under much scrutiny over the last week, both in the media and also of course in parliament. And I think he's acquitted himself extremely well. You'd be aware that the minister's announced an independent review into the Manus Island incident, he's done that, and I understand it'll be undertaken by Robert Cornall, who was a former secretary of the Attorney General's department. Mr Cornall will be working closely with the authorities, Papua New Guinean authorities on this review. And in addition I understand that the Papua New Guinean police will also investigate the incident, particularly of course in relation to any criminal matters. So there are two reviews underway, and I think it's fair to say that Scott Morrison has made himself very available to the media, and of course has answered questions at question time throughout this week. So he hasn't exactly run away from scrutiny.
HILL: Is it problematic though in the situation where you seem to have two overlapping jurisdictions, no one's quite sure who's responsible for what; G4S, the Australian officials, PNG police and there's been a lot of confusion about that?
MASON: Mr Morrison can really only speak from the Australian angle over his responsibilities. And I think it's fair enough to say that he's been quite transparent about that, and as he himself conceded that early on the information wasn't quite transparent, it wasn't quite available. But as it became available and as the facts became established, he has been I think acquitted himself very, very well in making those facts available to the Australian people.
HILL: There have been a number of incidents involving journalists, not just overseas journalists on Manus, but local PNG journalists, in which PNG police and G4S security guards have demanded that they delete photographs and footage, and in one case a photographer was manhandled. And one of the people in Papua New Guinea has told us that they were told that the orders for this came "from Australia". Is there some sort of government policy to stop journalists on Manus doing their job?
MASON: Well Bruce no there's not. I must concede first of all I have read of those reports, I have, but what I can say that there's certainly no Australian government instruction to prevent journalists covering Manus. This is a matter for PNG authorities, and certainly the Australian government does not direct Papua New Guinea officials in Papua New Guinea. So there's no directive at all as I understand it, and this is really a matter for the Papua New Guinea authorities.
HILL: Is this a case however of the Australian government kind of hiding behind the Papua New Guinea authorities again because of this whole question of overlapping jurisdiction, who's really in charge? And you've got to admit it's not a good look for Australia to have this sort of thing happening to journalists?
MASON: Well Bruce as I say I have read those reports and I'm certainly not saying they didn't occur. But the responsibility for that is a matter for Papua New Guinea, and Australia certainly hasn't been directing those officials as to how to act with respect to anyone, and certainly journalists from Australia or indeed anywhere.
HILL: Ok well I understand that Australian aid to Papua New Guinea may be undergoing a bit of a strategic review. Is Australia trying to remove its aid from supporting basic services to try and do more targeted projects, is there a strategic change in the way that Australian money is used in PNG?
MASON: Yeah it's a good question. At one level yes, it's the old story about giving the man a fish and giving the man the fishing rod isn't it? We want clearly Australian aid to build prosperity and stability in the region, and often you can do that by invigorating the private sector and having sustainable growth, rather than simply providing textbooks for schoolchildren that really should be a matter for domestic governments, including the PNG government. The other part of the issue too of course is Bruce is that benchmarking that the foreign ministry is very keen on will ensure that every aid dollar that is spent in Papua New Guinea, which is what over half a billion dollars a year, is spent far more effectively. Both those angles are very, very important, and I think if we can squeeze more money out of the tax dollar, that's a good thing for Australians, it's a good thing for the Papua New Guinea government and the Papua New Guinea people, and also of course it helps NGOs with their accounting. They also want to know how well they're doing in terms of spending their money. So it's a good process, and I know it's not always easy, but I think it's something that should have happened years ago and the foreign ministry is determined to make it happen as soon as possible.
HILL: Now I remember as a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s hearing about something called the Colombo Plan, it was training a lot of people from Commonwealth countries in lots of different areas. I understand that idea's actually being sort of revived at the moment?
MASON: Yes Bruce it is, in fact it's funny isn't it? The original Colombo Plan dating from what the 1950s through to the 1980s was a great diplomatic success for Australia. I think everyone would agree with that. When I go overseas so many people were educated, foreign leaders educated in Australia during the period of the Colombo Plan. Now with the new Colombo Plan, or some refer to it as the reverse Colombo Plan, we are sending Australian students in to Indo Pacific to study at universities and also to work in businesses and have practicums and have mentorships. So we're actually reversing the process in sending young Australians from 18 to 28 into the Asia Pacific. We think that will assist Australia again, Asia and Pacific literacy, and it's a very good thing for our country.
HILL: How might this affect the Pacific in particular?
MASON: Well the Pacific's an important part of it as our closest neighbours. And so the project really, the new Colombo Plan is directed in the west from let's say about Pakistan in the west all the way into the east right through let's say Fiji. So it covers the Pacific. And it's a matter really of universities working out accrediting arrangements and so forth. But you'll recall the other day when the Foreign Minister was in Fiji she actually spoke about the new Colombo Plan with Commodore Bainimarama. It was mentioned and both Fiji and Australia see the future relationship as being very positive.
HILL: How widespread will this be? How many Australian students would we be sending overseas? Will it have a big impact?
MASON: Well it could, but in time I think Bruce. We're starting this year off just with a pilot program in Japan and Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia. And next year it will be getting larger again, and it just takes time for universities to develop the programs. But yeah we've just had 300 students in stage one about to go overseas, and that's not a bad start. In the second half of this year there'll be many, many more students. It's been very successful thus far, but it's early days and we're learning as e go a bit.

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