Labor demands to see audit into controversial Manus Island contracts

The federal government is due to renew a multi-million dollar contract extension with Paladin to operate the Manus Island offshore processing centre within days.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said security company Paladin is likely to have its contract renewed to continue managing Manus Island.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said security company Paladin is likely to have its contract renewed to continue managing Manus Island. Source: AAP

Labor senator Kristina Keneally is demanding Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton release the findings of a review into an almost $500 million contract to manage the Manus Island offshore processing centre. 

This comes just days before the federal government is with Paladin, which has already been awarded $423 million to run the Papua New Guinea processing centre.

However, Ms Keneally demanded Mr Dutton first release the findings of a seven-week Ernst & Young audit into the contracts, which was supposed to be finished by last month.

"After almost five years as Home Affairs Minister, there’s no excuse for the kind of waste and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars like we’re seeing from Peter Dutton," Ms Keneally said on Monday.

"Peter Dutton likes to keep secrets, but it is unthinkable that he would continue to keep the findings of the Ernst and Young report hidden from public scrutiny when there are so many questions about Paladin's performance."

Ernst & Young said the review was designed to examine the "tendering and procurement process" around the Paladin contract, which is estimated to cost at least $1600 per day per asylum seeker.

Kristina Keneally

However, a formal review of the contract was ordered this year after the opposition learned Paladin was awarded the contract despite .

"Peter Dutton has had five years to find the right service providers for PNG, yet he’s failed at every turn, wasting taxpayers money in the process and also impacting the care of asylum seekers and refugees," Ms Keneally said.

"If Peter Dutton can’t be open with the Australian people about the mistakes and waste that has occurred under his watch, then perhaps it’s again time for the Australian National Audit Office to step in."

Paladin, whose Australian arm was registered to a beach shack on South Australia's Kangaroo Island until earlier this year, was awarded the $423 million contract in 2017 through a closed tender process.

Government documents show the end date for its contract was extended in October and again in January, but it is now due to expire on June 30.

Advocates say mental health crisis on Manus is escalating

Advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition said on Monday morning that had reached a "crisis point", reporting two more incidents of self-harm within hours of each other. 

Spokesperson Ian Rintoul said there had been an additional five incidents of across Manus and Port Moresby on Sunday.

"The suicide attempts and constant level of self-harm is creating an intolerable situation for the refugees themselves who are left to struggle to deal with the daily toll inside the compounds on Manus," he said.

"Rather than ramping up the political rhetoric, in his effort to curry support to repeal the Medevac bill, Peter Dutton should be getting people who need medical help off Manus Island and Nauru."

Mr Dutton said refugees who could be resettled in the United States had been refusing to do so because of Australia's medevac laws. 

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed asylum seekers are denying transfers to the US because of Australia's medevac laws.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has claimed asylum seekers are denying transfers to the US because of Australia's medevac laws. Source: AAP

Government pushes to repeal medevac law after court ruling

It comes after Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said changes to the laws are "ridiculous" and are just opening more holes in legislation that the Morrison government wants to repeal.

But shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government was just trying to pick an argument to distract from its "substantial" economic failures.

A Federal Court ruling last week reignited the political debate over the laws that allow people to be transferred from offshore detention to Australia on medical grounds, after deciding doctors didn't need to see a patient face-to-face for approval.

"I think that is a very good example of why these laws are completely unworkable, impractical and, I don't think ultimately, in our national interest," Mr Sukkar told Sky News on Sunday.

He said the laws - that were forced through the parliament earlier this year by the Labor opposition and crossbenchers - had done nothing to enhance the integrity of Australia's borders.

Mr Dutton said people who could go to the United States under a resettlement deal were refusing "because they believe that they can come to Australia under Labor's Medevac law".

"Let's be serious about what the people smugglers are hearing and what the people in Manus and Nauru are hearing, because I'm getting people now who won't engage in the US process," Mr Dutton told reporters on Sunday.

He said 250 cases were currently being considered by doctors under the medevac process.

However, a report in the Nine newspapers says the Medevac expert panel that Mr Dutton warned would open the "floodgates" and admit sick refugees and asylum seekers to Australia has been used just nine times since the law was passed.

The vast majority of all Medevac applications have been waved through by the government before reaching the final medical body.

The government has approved 31 medical transfers since the laws were introduced four months ago, while nine were rejected, which the expert panel overturned two and upheld seven, the report said.

Dr Chalmers said the minister is picking an unnecessary fight to try to distract from the substantial economic failures under the government's watch.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers.
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Source: AAP

He said it is no coincidence the Reserve Bank has cut the cash rate to a record low, economic growth is its slowest in a decade, productivity is down, consumption is weak, wages are stagnant and underemployment is rising.

"All of these sorts of things and all of a sudden Peter Dutton pops up and wants to pick a fight over the medevac laws, which are working," Dr Chalmers told the ABC's Insiders program.

"There's only been a couple of instances where people have come here on the advice of doctors, that the ministers didn't agree with. I think that that just shows what the government is up to here."

Readers seeking support and information about suicide can contact 24 hours a day online and on 13 11 14. Other services include the on 1300 659 467, and  (for people aged five to 25) on 1800 55 1800.

Additional reporting: AAP

6 min read
Published 24 June 2019 at 1:57pm
Source: SBS News