After what has been called the ‘medivac’ bill was passed, ensuring that the refugees on Manus and Nauru would be brought to Australia for health reasons, the Coalition has gone all out on a scare campaign to smear Labor and the Greens (not so much the Independents who initiated this bill, though), reviving lovely slogans about an endless stream of boats. A few points have been picked up by the media that put this into question, such as the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre and the fact that the bill only applies to the current cohort of refugees, and not to any new arrivals. More importantly, but (from what I could tell) hardly mentioned in comparison, is the new contract with a security firm, Paladin.
A few things put this contract under suspicion. The first is that it is close to half a billion dollars and, similar to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation scandal (where $444 million or so of taxpayer money has gone to it for no apparent reason), there was no real tender put out for it. Pressure from within the Department of Home Affairs and, allegedly, the PNG government pushed the decision to choose Paladin. Paladin themselves supposedly ran out of a beach shack on Kangaroo Island and had a post box in Singapore, and the government had to give them an advance of $10 million because they could not actually afford the contract in the first place. Regardless of any work they had previously done in the Asia Pacific region (as their website claims), choosing this company appears to have more of a backstory than surface explanations imply.
With no desire to propagate conspiracies, there was a small possibility of a family connection that some people have tried to piece together. A woman named Karen Dutton, who works for Paladin, has been suggested as a family member to Peter Dutton. Nowhere could I find any mention of Peter Dutton’s siblings’ names, and there is no proven link between the two – only that very quickly Karen Dutton’s Linked In account got torn down. If in fact there is a family connection, then there is much more to the corruption than simply throwing money at small, nonexistent companies for no reason – but until that is proven, that’s just a fun little theory the internet has proposed.
Back to what we do know, Paladin has been contracted the aforementioned amount to provide security for the refugees in the Manus Island detention centre – a contract that, if the medivac bill was indeed an ‘open borders’ threat, would not be required for future arrivals. Even disregarding the whole idea of the government throwing a half a billion dollar contract at a private company being wrong in general, it is doubly so when the service involved is humanitarian. In this case, the security of refugees should not be in the hands of private enterprises for profit. While the government wholeheartedly denies any prospect of indefinite detention, much like the concept of private prisons, profit is only generated by ‘return customers’, i.e. the private companies will gladly soak up government money in return for keeping people inside the detentions centres and by bringing in more. As the last 6 years has shown, this leaves people in a terrifying limbo rife with instances of self-harm, lack of medical care and security, hunger strikes, etc.
More will need to be discovered about Paladin and how it operates, and specifically how it will operate in the future regarding Manus Island. It’s connections to the PNG government need to be looked into as well, and if the internet sleuths find out who Karen is, then hey, maybe there’s another layer of corruption that would scream the necessity of a national version of ICAC. God knows we need that in Federal Parliament urgently, but no, boats first!
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