Lights out on Manus death as review clouds the truth

Review. It's such a benign word, beloved of bureaucrats, politicians and military chiefs alike when things become awkward.

Not much more than an audit, really. Nothing so alarming as a probe or an inquisition.

There was something close to desultory about the events of Tuesday in committee room 1S2 within Australia's great Parliament House, despite the subject.

Over long hours a clutch of senators attempted to explore what might have happened on Manus Island a week before, when a man supposed to be in Australia's care was, most probably, the victim of homicide, and scores more had their heads broken.

And what was the finding? Don't hold your breath.

The details of the entire unfortunate matter were too complicated and clouded by conflicting reports, according to very experienced bureaucrat Martin Bowles, who is secretary - public-service speak for chief - of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

What might have happened would be the subject of, yes, a review, he declared, and kept declaring, having clutched it as a shield.

There might be an interim report by the end of next month, and an actual report a month after that. Until then, why, reviewing would take place, and it wouldn't do at all in the meantime to attempt to shed actual light on what might have happened when the lights went out on Manus Island.

But what of the 23-year-old man who might, in high probability, have been murdered? And the scores of others who had their heads broken?

The Australian Federal Police wouldn't be investigating, or any other Australian police. Not even reviewing. It was a matter for the Papua New Guinea police. So urgent is the matter to the PNG police, apparently, that a week after the man had his head stoved in by persons unknown within Australia's outsourced detention centre, a post-mortem had not yet taken place. His body was being transported to Port Moresby, a week post-mortem.

There was no mention of a review of this lack of urgency. Papua New Guinea was a sovereign nation. With, you'd presume, its own sovereign time. Of the 1340 asylum seekers on Manus Island, 1339 now, not one has been processed for refugee status.

While the lights might as well have remained out awaiting a review on matters life and death in committee room 1S2, across Parliament House, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his ministers were demanding a rather greater sense of urgency about taking an axe to a reliable old hobgoblin.

The carbon tax had to go. It was destroying jobs, destroying Qantas, wrecking the joint.

''As I've been saying repeatedly for years now,'' Abbott hollered, unnecessarily, ''the carbon tax is a $9 billion hit, a $9 billion-a-year hit on jobs as well as being a $550-a-year hit on every household's cost of living. They're terrible taxes. The carbon tax will reduce the aluminium industry by over 60 per cent. It will reduce the steel industry by 20 per cent …''

The cry was taken up as if no one had heard it before, the judgment made, the death sentence demanded. No requirement for a review, lest the facts get in the way of a tallish story.

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The story Lights out on Manus death as review clouds the truth first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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