Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has defended Papua New Guinea's moves to end a judicial inquiry into human rights inside the Manus Island detention centre.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison said he had been kept abreast of the PNG government's plan to stymie the inquiry, initiated by the PNG judge and former human rights lawyer David Cannings after the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.
Fairfax Media revealed on Sunday that PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato had sought the blessing of the Abbott government to hold up the progress of the inquiry and prevent lawyers and medical doctors not registered in PNG from taking part.
PNG's Supreme Court temporarily halted the inquiry but in another twist on Sunday, Justice Cannings immediately launched another inquiry and granted access to the centre to NSW barrister Jay Williams.
Mr Williams is acting on behalf of 75 of the 1300 asylum seekers at the centre. He has spent the past two days taking affidavits from them and is expected to be back at the centre on Monday morning, when the PNG government will move to shut down the second inquiry.
The matter is one of utmost sensitivity for both countries after Justice Cannings led journalists into the detention centre on Friday.
Asylum seekers in the camp claimed Mr Barati had been repeatedly hit on the head before falling down a set of metal stairs.
A lawyer who was among a group given access to the detention centre at the weekend said on Monday that he was ''absolutely shocked'' by the overcrowding and overwhelming security presence.
Daniel Webb, director of legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, told Radio National that many of the rooms were so packed with asylum seekers that people could not walk between the beds.
''I think I've read every report that’s been written about conditions inside the Manus processing centre and I was still absolutely shocked and confronted by what I saw,” Mr Webb said.
''We saw poor toilet and sanitation facilities. There was a really overwhelming security presence.
''We weren’t allowed to interview detainees but everywhere we went we were swamped by crowds of asylum seekers just desperate for help and desperate for someone, anyone, to listen to their stories.''
Mr Webb said the conditions highlighted the need for the judicial inquiry into human rights inside the centre to be able to continue.
“What was clear was that you had a large number of people languishing in pretty tough conditions who didn’t seem to have too much idea as to when their detention would end,” he said.
Mr Webb said he hoped it was not the case that the Australian government had been involved in efforts to hold up the inquiry.
''I'd like to think not but it’s absolutely impossible for me to say,'' he said.
He added that the inquiry had not been shut down, but temporarily adjourned while bias allegations were heard by the Supreme Court.
''Depending how that goes, the inquiry could be back under way on Thursday morning,'' he said.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Morrison said: ''Minister Pato has kept me informed of the Papua New Guinea government's response to the Cannings and other related inquiries. This is a matter for the PNG government and we support the actions they consider are necessary to take, upon their own initiative, within their own sovereign jurisdiction and consistent with their own constitution.''
Mr Pato had claimed his counterpart, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, was also on side with PNG. However, the office of Ms Bishop, who is in The Hague, contradicted him.
''Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was not consulted about the PNG government response to the judicial inquiry into the recent riot on Manus Island, prior to the decision to challenge the inquiry through the courts,'' a spokeswoman said. ''These are matters for the PNG government to resolve through its legal and parliamentary processes.''
Mr Pato has accused the Cannings inquiry of not complying with ''proper processes under PNG law''.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said on Monday that the resettlement of refugees in Pacific nations other than Papua New Guinea had been discussed “quite widely in the past” and that the government had been in talks with other countries.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to canvas which other countries might be involved but certainly we are keen to talk to any of the countries that might be prepared to play a part in this resettlement,” Mr Truss said.
Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the decision to quash the inquiry following Justice Cannings' decision to allow the media access to the detention centre ''smells fishy''.
''It looks dodgy and smacks of desperation,'' she said in Canberra.
Labor senator Penny Wong said the matter was one for PNG but renewed calls for the investigation into Mr Berati's death to be transparent.
''We are appropriately pressing the government for some transparency on these matters,'' she said.
with Lisa Cox
The story Scott Morrison defends move by PNG to call halt to Manus Island detention centre inquiry first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.