The Australian Financial Review has revealed that the federal Coalition government awarded a $423 million security and cleaning contract for three Manus Island refugee detention centres to Paladin Group, a company that, at the time, was registered to a Kangaroo Island beach shack.
Incredibly, the minister for cruelty and home affairs Peter Dutton claims he knew nothing about it. However, we now know the home affairs department secretary authorised a “closed tender” for invited contractors only (although, in this case, there may have just been one).
The department chose a small, under-resourced outfit, even loaning it start-up funds to get the operation going.
The little-known Paladin, now one of the government’s biggest contractors, is supposedly providing security, IT, local transport and some site management at three refugee camps on Manus Island: East Lorengau Transit Centre, Hillside Haus and West Lorengau Haus.
Refugees there say it is doing nothing of the sort — maintenance is non-existent and amenities are broken.
Author and refugee on Manus Island Behrouz Boochani tweeted: “We haven’t seen any service provided by Paladin on Manus, only 500 locals employed to walk around here and watch what we do every day. They’re paid $5000 per year. The question is what happens to the remaining $419 million Paladin’s been receiving from the Australian gov.”
We may find out soon as pressure mounts on Dutton to explain.
Part of the reason for the Paladin exposé relates to a falling out within the company.
Craig Coleman, who spent 25 years in the army as a combat engineer and explosive ordnance disposal technician, was the company’s PNG chief executive. He is now suing Paladin for breach of contract.
Meanwhile, Paladin’s founder Craig Thrupp is no longer able to enter PNG and another local director, Kisokau Powaseu, was detained in Port Moresby in January and charged with misappropriating funds and money laundering.
Thrupp, another former soldier, landed in East Timor in 2006 looking to profit from chaos. The AFR said Thrupp went from East Timor to Indonesia to Papua New Guinea “often leaving a trail of bad debts and unfulfilled contracts”.
That all changed in early 2017 after the refugee rights movement’s successful campaign against giving multinational giant Broadspectrum (previously Transfield) lucrative refugee processing contracts on Nauru and Manus Island.
That year, Paladin’s contract on Manus Island jumped from $15 million to $423 million.
Paladin is being paid on average $20.8 million a month for its role on Manus Island. As it mostly uses local staff who are paid very little, its total costs are estimated to be less than $3 million a month.
This means that it is pocketing more than $17 million a month while paying each of its dozen or so non-local staff about $150,000 a year.
There are currently 422 people detained in the three camps. This means the government is paying $1600 a day for each refugee it keeps on Manus, and this does not include food and welfare services.
Processing refugees and asylum seekers in Australia is not just the only humane solution: it will also cut out the corrupt “security” operators that are profiting from refugees’ misery.