Scott Morrison’s brutality the year’s defining story

This week The Saturday Paper celebrates its first anniversary. A year ago it launched with a page one story about the death on Manus Island of a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker named Reza Barati. 

At the time, then immigration minister Scott Morrison was refusing to answer most questions about the murder. Secrecy was the great constant of his time in the portfolio. 

Initially, Morrison claimed Barati had been killed after escaping the detention centre, although this proved to be false. It took Morrison three days to correct the record.

The morning after Barati was beaten to death, Morrison was still defiant: “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.”

A senate committee report found Morrison had been “selective with the facts” regarding Barati’s death and that the riot on Manus Island had been “eminently foreseeable”. Barati’s father said he blamed Morrison for his son’s murder and would seek compensation: “He was sent to the PNG camp under this man’s supervision.”

In the year since, The Saturday Paper has reported on the torture of an asylum seeker forced back to Afghanistan by Morrison’s department. It has revealed the responsibility Morrison’s office had for a teen who was raped by the Taliban before fleeing to Australia, her brother and father murdered while she waited alone for their asylum claims to be processed.

Elsewhere, the paper has traced the failures of offshore processing and the hard-hearted responses of Morrison and his office to the people caught in this system. Morrison’s brutality has been a defining story of The Saturday Paper’s first year. He made war with asylum seekers.

Scott Morrison is no longer the minister for immigration. He was rewarded in a reshuffle with the social services portfolio. At the National Press Club this week, he made his first significant statements about his plans for the welfare system. Already, he is readying for conflict.

“My concern is that right now there seems to be no appetite for the change that is necessary – whether that’s in the community, the parliament, the opposition, some members of the crossbench even,” he said.

“But unless this does change, unless we are able to move to a better system that better reflects the needs of the next generation and even this one, then change – even incremental change – will not be possible.”

Morrison is considering the wide-ranging recommendations of a review conducted by former Mission Australia head Patrick McClure. In a radical simplification of the welfare system, the report recommends rolling the country’s 20 current primary welfare payments into five. They would cover the age pension, child and youth payment, carer payments, working age payments and a support pension for people with disabilities. The 55 payment supplements in the current system would be reduced to four categories.

That the welfare system needs reform is no secret. Simplification has many benefits, including better access. But the important factor for a report such as this is that its recommendations cannot be cherry-picked. The government cannot take the savings without adopting associated expenditure. The report cannot be used as a front to eat away government assistance to the needy.

Morrison is an interesting choice for the portfolio. His defining characteristic is his toughness. He comes from a government that just this week was linking dole recipients to terrorism. Compassion is not a strong suit.

There are trapped in our immigration system a few thousand lives Morrison has perhaps irreparably damaged, cannon fodder to his war on boats. In this country’s welfare system there are many more lives still, many of them vulnerable, many of them in need. Australia must ask how such people should be treated and whether Morrison has the compassion to treat them this way.

The Saturday Paper will continue to help answer these questions – to interrogate where this country is headed and never shy from exposing its governments’ intentions.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 28, 2015 as "Scott’s single fault risky".

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