Scathing report puts Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs tenure under scrutiny

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says retired MPs have been 'besmirched".

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says retired MPs have been 'besmirched". Photo: AAP

A report detailing the links between criminal activity and Australia’s offshore detention regime has put Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s time in charge of immigration under scrutiny.

Dennis Richardson, a former ASIO director-general, was commissioned to write the report following allegations that companies accused of criminal behaviour had received multimillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Home Affairs.

Richardson established that the department and the Australian government had contractual relationships with:

  • Companies under investigation by the Australian Federal Police
  • A company whose owners are suspected of avoiding US sanctions on Iran, money laundering, bribery and other criminal activity
  • A company whose CEO was being investigated for possible drugs and arms smuggling into Australia, and
  • An “enterprise suspected of corruption”.

A company at the centre of the allegations, Paladin, received more than $500 million in contracts to run offshore processing on Manus Island from 2015 to 2019.

Paladin is currently being investigated by the AFP for allegedly paying Papua New Guinean officials more than $3 million in bribes.

The report alleges that a former Paladin director reported “numerous attempts” of bribery to Home Affairs, but the department “sought to downplay its knowledge of corruption concerns and urged Paladin executives to pass on their concerns only via phone calls, in order to avoid putting the concerns on the record”.

Manus Island

Paladin was awarded $536 million in contracts for offshore processing on Manus Island. Photo: AAP

Under scrutiny

The report’s summary states that Richardson did not find evidence of ministerial involvement in the contract or procurement decisions, any deliberate wrongdoing or criminality.

It did, however, find that proper due diligence “was lacking when it came to contracts with relatively small companies with limited or no public profile, and where operations were to be in high-risk environments.”

Dutton wasn’t named in the report, but the awarding of contracts to companies linked to criminal activity occurred during his time as minister of Home Affairs.

Minister of Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, who commissioned the report last year, called it a “damning indictment of the failures of the Leader of the Opposition”.

“This is a report that shows us that the Leader of the Opposition oversaw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being funnelled into companies which were involved in drug smuggling, arms trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking,” she said.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars was taken from the constituents of every single one of us in this chamber and given to companies that went on to commit horrible crimes.”

When contacted by The New Daily, Dutton’s office pointed to Richardson’s executive summary that said he “did not see evidence of any ministerial involvement in the regional processing contract or procurement decisions, and the Secretary of Home Affairs said he never discussed such decisions with the Minister for Home Affairs”.

When asked if Dutton accepted the recommendations and findings in the Richardson report, his office did not respond.

Recommended changes

Richardson made four recommendations in his report:

  • Home Affairs should more carefully consider the procurement process to ethical conduct and integrity of suppliers and supply chains, and undertake risk-informed due diligence activities
  • The department should foster and promote an ask-and-tell environment that encourages information sharing
  • A law enforcement and information-sharing protocol should be developed with other departments, the AFP and the intelligence community to “inform procurement and contracting decisions in high-risk environments”
  • A fourth recommendation was redacted in the unclassified report.
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