Corruption shows offshore detention is rotten to the core—Labor can’t hide

The long-awaited review of Australia’s offshore detention by former ASIO boss, Dennis Richardson, was finally made public on 12 February. However Labor’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has been sitting on Richardson’s report since October last year.

It is no coincidence that the report was only made public after PNG Prime Minister James Marape addressed the Australian parliament last week. Corruption remains endemic in the arrangements between Australia and PNG to provide services for the 55 refugees and their families still stranded in PNG.

Labor last made a payment to PNG in July 2022, but the refugees have been left destitute since services were cut off in October 2023. Refugees have no income, no food vouchers, no electricity, no access to health care and have been threatened with eviction. But Labor has done nothing to support refugees in PNG or evacuate them to safety.

The PNG Chief Migration Officer, Stanis Hulahau, has stood aside while an investigation takes place into manifest corruption of the PNG humanitarian program that has left refugee service providers owed hundreds of millions of kina.

Corrupt history

Corruption in offshore detention arrangements is not news. In January 2017, the government’s own National Audit Office issued a scathing report into the first five years of detention on Manus Island and Nauru saying the Immigration Department (now Home Affairs) had spent $2.2 billion without proper authorisation.

Spending of $1.1 billion was approved by departmental officers who did not have the required authorisation and for the remaining $1.1 billion there was no record at all of who had authorised the payments.

The 2017 report complained that contracts were signed, “in great haste to give effect to government policy decisions and the department did not have a detailed view of what it wanted to purchase”.

The report was also scathing of the conditions in the camps, saying the chief medical officer had drawn attention to, “increased risk of infections and disease due to vermin and pests; water pooling; extensive mould and inadequate cleaning of wet areas; inadequate food hygiene; and overcrowded accommodation.”

In January 2019, the Financial Review reported that Paladin Group was one of the biggest government contractors in Australia, having won tenders worth $423 million for its 22 months of work on Manus Island. The company’s registered headquarters was a beach shack on Kangaroo Island.

Five years later, the Richardson report shows that Paladin Group’s founding director, Craig Thrupp, is estimated to have personally made more than $150 million from contracts worth more than $500 million over four years to run offshore processing on Manus Island up to 2019.

Paladin is facing an Australian Federal Police investigation into allegations that it paid bribes in 2018 totalling $3 million to PNG officials to secure the contracts.

The Richardson report very carefully only blames public servants for the widespread corruption revealed by the inquiry. The “left arm did not know what the right arm was doing”, he said. But the corruption was public and well-known; the politicians, Liberal and Labor, did know.

Labor’s Home Affairs Minister is pointing the finger at Peter Dutton. He deserves to be condemned. But corruption is an inevitable part of offshore detention, just part of the price paid for entrenching human rights abuses.

Labor bribed both the governments of PNG and Nauru to establish offshore detention in 2013, paying PNG almost $500 million in increased foreign aid just to agree to open Manus Island.

Now Labor has turned a blind eye to the corruption and to the refugees left behind in PNG. Labor is paying MTC, a notorious US detention company, $420 million for just 30 months to keep offshore detention operating on Nauru. Fifteen refugees are being held on Nauru with no concern for their human rights after arriving on two boats in September and October.

Eight others who arrived with them, including a child, were sent back to their country of origin.

The Richardson report is damning but ultimately it lets the politicians off the hook. Labor can’t hide its responsibility for offshore detention.

The refugees in PNG must be brought to Australia. Those already in Australia on temporary bridging visas, after being medically evacuated from PNG and Nauru, must be allowed to settle here permanently.

By Ian Rintoul


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