Probe fails to answer crucial questions

Robert Cornall's report on the violence on Manus Island tiptoes around the key failures of the Abbott government and avoids a conclusion on whether the policy of indefinite detention in such a remote and foreign location is fatally flawed.

The wishy-washy set of recommendations belie the gravity of what unfolded inside a place where Scott Morrison maintained, even after the carnage, that the safety of inmates could be guaranteed as long as they behaved.

Recommendation number one is that the ''feedback forms'' collated from 145 detainees that describe criminal offences be forwarded to PNG police who are yet to make an arrest on the murder of Reza Barati, and the maiming of others, more than three months ago.

Number two is that the same feedback forms be provided to the new service provider, Transfield Services, to assist with its management of the detainees (called transferees) and the physical and psychological injuries they suffered back in February.

Correctly, the report concludes that it is not possible to isolate one factor which, if handled differently, may have resulted in less carnage, but it is diplomatic to a fault when it comes to sheeting home responsibility.

It also skates over one of the many contradictions that contributed to the tensions: that the centre is called a regional processing centre, but operates like a high-security detention centre, minus the requisite security apparatus of fencing, security cameras and trained employees.

Of the murder of Mr Barati, there is confirmation of what this newspaper reported a fortnight after the killing - that a key witness identified a local employed by the Salvation Army as initiating the attack.

But there is a puzzling omission. The report notes that the witness had previously advised that he would only make a statement to police in the presence of his Australian lawyer, but says the Australian immigration department had ''declined to pay for him to come to Manus for that purpose''.

The truth, as I understand it, is that the lawyer, Jay Williams, paid his own way to PNG and was in the process of connecting his client with PNG investigators when the PNG government deported him.

For all its shortcomings, the report sheds light on the tragedy simply by bringing into focus the questions still unanswered.

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