Cornall paid $83k for Manus review
A former public servant has rejected suggestions his review of the fatal violence on Manus Island was not thorough, and defended the $83,000 he was paid to do it.
Robert Cornall was forced to back the adequacy of his report during a Senate inquiry examining the February riots at the Papua New Guinea facility, which left one asylum seeker dead.
“I reject any suggestion that it’s not a thorough review,” Mr Cornall told a hearing in Canberra on Thursday.
The report released in May made 13 recommendations, including security improvements and granting guards powers to search and use force.
The report said it was impossible to apportion blame directly to any of the parties involved in the riot.
Nor could it nominate any one factor which, if handled differently, may have resulted in fewer injuries or less damage.
Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused Mr Cornall, a former head of the attorney-general’s department, of cutting corners.
She said there was evidence his review – and a previous review he conducted into sexual abuse allegations at Manus Island – had not covered all the evidence or come to solid conclusions.
Mr Cornall said he was paid just less than $83,000 for three months work.
“That was calculated at the rate of $1500 a day, for eight hours a day,” Mr Cornall said.
“It’s at the rate of a second-year solicitor.”
Mr Cornall said he did not start a submission process during his review to allow people to contact him with information.
Instead, Mr Cornall wrote to security firm G4S, the Salvation Army and healthcare provider International Health and Medical Services asking for nominations of people to interview about events on the night of the riot.
“I had enough information from key players,” he said.
Mr Cornall received written accounts from 270 asylum seekers, had meetings with about 50 and interviewed four.
He told the hearing his review had not examined the conduct of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison because that had not been in his terms of reference.
Senator Hanson-Young said this contradicted Mr Morrison’s statement to parliament in February that the review would look at his own conduct.
Mr Morrison was criticised after initially stating that the violence had occurred outside the detention centre, but then issued a correction, saying it had taken place inside.
A PNG police investigation is still under way and no one has been charged over the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.
Mr Cornall’s received evidence that a PNG Salvation Army worker led the attack on Mr Barati.
Nicole Judge, who had stints as a caseworker for the Salvation Army on Manus Island, told the hearing asylum seekers were “treated like animals” at the detention centre.
Asylum seekers told her every day they would rather die than stay in detention.
“I spent lengthy amounts of time trying to convince people their life was still worth living,” Ms Judge said.
Salvation Army management repeatedly warned staff their phone calls were monitored and emails read and if they talked about their work life they would lose their jobs or face criminal charges, she said.
Former security firm G4S employee Martin Appleby gave evidence about inadequate training of local PNG guards.
Mr Appleby, who has a background as a prison officer, said communication was difficult because his trainees only spoke Pidgin.
Many were recruited from local villages and some had never had a job before.
“It was extremely difficult to converse even to get my name across to the 30 to 40 trainees in the room,” Mr Appleby said.
He was extremely concerned the detention centre’s incident response team was made up mostly of PNG nationals.
“I still don’t know why that occurred,” he said, adding ex-Australian and New Zealand army and police personnel who were working for G4S should have been the mainstay of the squad.
The inquiry continues on Friday.