Labor issues please explain over Paladin’s $420m Manus contract

Penny Wong says it’s ‘deeply concerning’ a company with ‘such a poor track record’ was awarded a lucrative sum through closed tender

Penny Wong has indicated Labor will target the Paladin offshore detention security contract in Senate estimates this week, accusing the government of failing to explain why the company was awarded $420m in contracts through closed tender.

The Australian Financial Review has reported that Paladin Group’s $420m of contracts to provide security to refugees on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was extended by the home affairs department in January after a closed tender process.

On Sunday the attorney general, Christian Porter, defended the home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who has said he had “no sight” of the tender process. Porter told ABC’s Insiders that “standard procurement processes are often at arms-length from the minister”.

The host Barrie Cassidy put to him the contracts were unusual given it is a “little-known Singapore company with a registered address on Kangaroo Island” which is a beach shack at the end of a dirt road.

“This was the subject of a fund independent commonwealth procurement process and I’m sure that the claims will be investigated,” Porter replied.

Wong told reporters in Adelaide the Paladin contract had “a lot of questions around it” and it was “deeply concerning” a company with “such a poor track record” was awarded $420m.

Wong accused Porter of giving answers that were “not consistent” with Dutton’s because “this went to a closed tender – not an open tender, [it was] not an open competitive process”.

Wong accused Dutton of “trying to wash [his] hands of it”. “Tomorrow is Senate estimates – what I’d say to the government is: stop hiding.

“Why don’t you front up and tell the truth about why that contract is awarded in such circumstances, why it went to closed tender?”

Porter also continued the Morrison government’s attacks that the medevac bill, which passed parliament over government objections, represents an incentive for people-smuggling operations to Australia, despite the fact the new medical assessment procedures only apply to the current cohort of people in offshore detention.

The medevac bill sets up a process for an independent medical panel to force a medical transfer from offshore detention unless the minister overrules it on security grounds or if the person has a “substantial criminal record”.

Porter said that although the “primary legal observation to make [is] that the legislation is not prospective” the fact that Labor had “softened” the rules was “another observation that’s no less important and no less real”.

“And there is some implausibility about the notion that they wouldn’t take that opportunity again if in government for a future cohort.

“And both of those observations are as real as each other.”

Labor has insisted that the legal changes only apply to asylum seekers that are already on Manus Island or Nauru, meaning there is no incentive for asylum seekers to attempt to come to Australia now.

Porter said the “complete discretion” of the home affairs minister to refuse medical transfers had “now totally changed” and the government is “very concerned” that people “reasonably suspected” of criminal conduct – but not convicted – cannot be refused.

Porter defended the government’s decision to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre, which has lead some critics to accuse it of encouraging people smugglers to restart their trade by suggesting Australia’s borders were weakened as a result.

Independent MP Kerryn Phelps – the architect of the medevac bill – has responded to reports of potential future people-smuggling operations by noting it was the Liberal Party who “sent up the signal that Christmas Island is reopening”.

And who sent up the signal that Christmas Island was reopening? @LiberalAus @ScottMorrisonMP

— Prof Kerryn Phelps AM (@drkerrynphelps) February 15, 2019

Porter said it was a “rational” response to deal with the expected “influx of hundreds of people” that may transfer out of offshore detention for medical treatment.

Despite fears of future boat arrivals, six refugees interviewed by Guardian Australia said that neither they nor anyone they knew would be willing to attempt the journey.

On Sunday the prime minister’s office released a two-minute video message from Morrison, expected to be translated into 15 languages and aired in 10 countries considered asylum-seeker hot spots.

“Make no mistake, if you attempt to come to Australia illegally by boat, you will not succeed,” the prime minister says.

“So do not waste your money or risk your life, or anyone else’s life, for nothing.”


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Julie Bishop to quit politics at the next election – as it happened
Former Australian foreign affairs minister says she will not recontest the seat of Curtin. All the day’s events, live

Amy Remeikis

21, Feb, 2019 @7:20 AM

Article image
Mental health conditions behind most Nauru and Manus refugee medical admissions
New figures come as Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent says Australia cannot continue with indefinite detention

Katharine Murphy Political editor

22, Jul, 2019 @7:59 PM

Article image
Labor starts fightback on border security as medical evacuation bill passes Senate – as it happened
Labor, the Greens, Tim Storer, Derryn Hinch and the Centre Alliance vote in favour of the refugee transfer legislation. All the day’s events, live

Amy Remeikis

13, Feb, 2019 @7:30 AM

Article image
Repealing medevac would be 'a wicked thing', Centre Alliance says – as it happened
Rebekha Sharkie says if the government is successful in repealing the legislation it will cause ‘needless harm’

Amy Remeikis

24, Jul, 2019 @7:48 AM

Article image
Labor says Peter Dutton must release ‘secret’ audit of Manus Island contracts
Kristina Keneally says Coalition should not renew Paladin contract without making review public

Amy Remeikis

23, Jun, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Peter Dutton says detainees trying to force asylum policy change
Immigration minister accuses advocates and Greens of aiding 600 refugees and asylum seekers who refuse to leave Manus Island centre

Helen Davidson

31, Oct, 2017 @6:52 AM

Article image
Police ask Clover Moore for statement on Angus Taylor – as it happened
Sydney lord mayor approached by police investigating accusations the minister relied on a falsified document to attack her. This blog is now closed

Christopher Knaus

04, Dec, 2019 @7:38 AM

Article image
Last four refugee children leave Nauru for resettlement in US
Move follows intense campaign by refugee advocates for all children sent to the island by the Australian government to be taken off

Helen Davidson

27, Feb, 2019 @10:46 PM

Article image
Campaign catchup: Peter Dutton dials up refugee rhetoric
The immigration minister warns illiterate, innumerate refugees will steal Australian jobs, triggering the least edifying day of the election 2016 campaign so far

Elle Hunt

18, May, 2016 @7:17 AM

Article image
Manus Island closure does not fix flaws in detention policy, Amnesty says
Immigration minister Peter Dutton says the Australian-run detention centre will progressively shut down

Helen Davidson

16, May, 2017 @3:00 AM