April 28, 2014
• Former security officer Martin Appleby talks exclusively to Guardian Australia, the first guard to speak out
• Minister ‘put security at risk’ when he told asylum seekers they would never see Australia
• Detention centre beset by lack of proper procedures, unprofessional conduct and atrocious conditions, Appleby says
Scott Morrison directly contributed to tension in the Manus Island detention centre during a late September visit, according to an explosive set of allegations made by former G4S guard Martin Appleby, who is the first guard to speak publicly since the unrest on Manus in February that left one asylum seeker dead.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia, Appleby, who worked as a safety and security officer and a training officer on Manus between July and late December 2013, alleges:
- The immigration minister addressed a compound in late September, resulting in a state of “high alert” being called for riot, fire and self-harm. Appleby made these observations in a video diary that was recorded just days after Morrison’s address. The minister, according to Appleby, told asylum seekers: “You will never see the shores of Australia.” The decision to address asylum seekers in this manner, “put people’s security at risk, including his own”, and was a turning point in tensions within the camp, according to Appleby.
- Papua New Guinean nationals in the incident response teams (IRTs) were given “probably three days” of training. Appleby describes this as not at all adequate. Local IRTs are alleged to have been involved in the violence that erupted on the evening of 17 February, when Reza Barati was killed. A G4S incident report extract of that night seen independently by Guardian Australia observes a manager “lost control” of her IRT that evening. Appleby, who has a decade’s experience in corrections, says the training of the local IRTs should have been a “minimum six intensive weeks”.
- As the numbers in the centre began to swell after the introduction of the “PNG solution”, G4S “couldn’t afford any more time to give to training and it was a sort of a snowball effect”, Appleby says. “It was a failure that was always going to fail,” he adds.
- There was no proper procedure in place to count the number of asylum seekers in the centre. Appleby says he has “no doubt” detainees absconded from the camp.
- Facilities in the detention centre were atrocious: “No one should be made to live under those conditions. No one.”
A spokeswoman for Morrison’s office said there was “no basis in fact” for the allegation that the minister’s September trip had exacerbated tension on Manus. “Claims that the minister was ‘evacuated’ or had ‘increased tensions’ are false. They have no basis in fact,” she said.
Morrison said in an Operation Sovereign Border press conference on 30 September that he had addressed asylum seekers on Manus: “I gave them a very clear message, and it was this; they will not be getting what they came for. They would remain there at that centre until they went home or were settled in a country other than Australia.”
Asked for a response to all of Appleby’s allegations, the spokeswoman responded: “The government inherited a facility on Manus Island that had been rushed by the previous government.” A full statement can be read here.
Guardian Australia has produced three films of Appleby’s allegations. They feature never-before-seen footage from inside the detention centre and use evidence obtained by a sustained investigation into the unrest.
None of the footage or documents used were provided to Guardian Australia by Appleby.
He also alleges that there was no process to permanently separate vulnerable asylum seekers from the main population. Appleby says he was given the task of caring for one sexual assault victim for 24 hours; the detainee was “very scared” of what would happened to him when he returned to his compound.
Appleby was present during the evacuation of the centre on 18 October, after an altercation between the PNG navy and police outside the main gate. His is the first detailed account of that event. He says PNG forces turned on G4S staff who rushed out to stop the confrontation. Personnel were evacuated single file along a beach behind the centre, leaving asylum seekers alone in the compound. He says there were no evacuation procedures. “We didn’t know how many staff at that point were being evacuated,” he said. “Was it mismanagement? Was it lack of procedure? Was it all of the above? For people from professional backgrounds to act in such a way was just disgraceful.”
Since leaving Manus, Appleby has announced he will stand as an ALP candidate in the Victorian state elections. He says none of his allegations are politically motivated.
A spokesman for G4S did not respond to Appleby’s specific allegations. “G4S will not comment in detail on individual allegations with regard to the Manus Island incidents of 16 and 17 February, as we do not wish to pre-empt or compromise a number of Australian and PNG reviews that are currently under way,” he said.