Manus refugee vindicated by Paladin probe

6:57 am on 19 February 2019

The Australian government would be brought down if Manus Island service providers were investigated, an award-winning journalist says.

Behrouz Boochani, the recipient of Australia's richest literary prize, has long called for scrutiny of companies providing services to refugees Australia detains offshore.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) has obliged with an investigation into private security firm Paladin Solutions.

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani Photo: Behrouz Boochani / Hoda Afshar

No illegality has been uncovered but financial imprudence on behalf of the government is implied, something the responsible minister has tried to distance himself from.

Mr Boochani, a refugee detained on Manus for almost six years, said Australians "would be shocked" by what he alleged was a "corrupt system".

Citing the shroud of secrecy around offshore processing, the journalist implored the media "to follow the contracts", something the Australian Senate will do this week.

Meanwhile, in a series of articles, the AFR has questioned the suitability of Paladin to win $US300 million worth of government tenders.

It described the company's founder Craig Thrupp as "a soldier of fortune" with a "string of bad debts" from "failed contracts".

According to the AFR, Mr Thrupp previously owned a company called High Risk Security that collapsed in 2010, owing $AU170,000.

Paladin's former chief executive, Craig Coleman, has alleged the company did not have the structure or resources to perform the Manus Island contracts.

The AFR sites court documents filed by Mr Coleman against Paladin over an employment dispute, in which he claims the company lied during the tendering process.

That process has also been brought into question. The AFR reported the Home Affairs Department ran it as a "limited tender", typically meaning no other companies are invited to bid.

Since the AFR began its Paladin probe, the responsible minister, Peter Dutton, has claimed he had no oversight of awarding it the lucrative contracts.

His department sought to exempt the company from Freedom of Information law, according to the AFR, which might have protected it from media scrutiny.

Mr Dutton has defended Paladin, claiming there are few people who can deliver services on an island as remote at Manus.

But Paladin has not acted alone on the island. It made a deal with local company Peren Investment, which the AFR said was controlled by three brothers of PNG's parliamentary speaker, Job Pomat.

But Mr Pomat said his family had "nothing to hide" in its links to controversial Manus Island security contracts.

It's unclear how much money was involved, but Peren was contracted to provide nearly 40 staff to Paladin and was budgeted for other "overheads".

Mr Pomat told RNZ Pacific he was not sure any laws had been broken.

He said he was happy to provide his entire family's bank statements to any journalists who come to Manus Island, but declined to give any details over the phone.

Paladin also recently purchased the PNG private security company Black Swan that has denied having financial links to PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill.

As Australian senators examine Paladin contracts on Monday and Tuesday, the AFR reported the company was setting up a new head office in Canberra.

It was previously headquartered in a Kangaroo Island beach shack off the coast of Adelaide.

"Many times I called for an investigation," Mr Boochani told RNZ Pacific.

Other contracts that should be scrutinised include charter flights from Manus and Nauru, where Australia detains about 1000 refugees, Mr Boochani said.

"For example, to rent a jet to fly from Nauru to Australia costs 60 or 70,000 dollars. They want to transfer a family to Australia. They transfer the parents in a jet today and tomorrow the jet goes back and takes the children.

"They can't transfer these people in one jet?

"I am sure one day Australian people will be shocked by this system. And don't forget a big part of this deal is PNG, a very corrupt country."

A refugee protest at the East Lorengau Tranist Centre, 24-11-18.

Manus Island refugees protesting Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs