Australia’s secret PNG deal must be investigated

Refugee advocates are calling on both the Australian and PNG governments to urgently investigate the secret 2021 deal struck by the Morrison government and PNG governments for services to refugees left in PNG by Australia.

Serious suspicions surround the governance of the deal which has left unpaid debts of millions of Australian dollars to refugee service providers and threatens to see the eviction of Australia’s refugees from PNG hotels.

Under the deal, service providers invoice the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Authority (ICA), which then refers the invoice to Chatswood for payment. But in an interview in August with refugees, ICA manager Terry Mape (Manager Refugee Resettlement) says that service providers are bypassing ICA and going to the Chief Migration Officer, Stanis Hulahau.

“The lack of transparency and oversight means there is an enormous capacity for corruption that extends from the CMO to individual service providers in the scheme,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Chatswood, currently the main provider, is a shadowy operation specifically set up by managers associated with previous service provider JDA, which was also investigated by the National Audit Office for contract abuses. Chatswood has not been able to be located since June (see screenshot), and is still not paying outstanding invoices for refugee services from the funds provided by Australia in 2021.

In light of the behaviour of the Morrison government and public service departments in Robodebt, and now the revelations regarding Home Affairs secretary, Michael Pezzullo, and previous dodgy contracts with service providers on Nauru and PNG, there are equally serious questions hanging over Morrison’s secret deal with PNG. (Documents released to the Senate in September 2019 reveal that another service provider, Paladin, breached its key performance indicators thousands of times during the first year of its operations. Yet the Morrison government renewed its contract several times.)

So far, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has refused to make Morrison’s secret deal public. O’Neil is also yet to clarify whether the PNG deal will be covered by Dennis Richardson’s inquiry into the integrity of offshore refugee contracts.

“Morrison’s secret deal was designed to fail, while individual providers and potentially corrupt bureaucrats have been lining their pockets with millions meant for refugees,” said Rintoul, “PNG was never going to be able to support Australia’s refugees. Labor is now complicit in that failure. It’s time to end the secrecy, end the corruption and bring the refugees to Australia to provide them with the security they rightfully need.”

 For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713