The National Australian Broadcaster reports
A review has found Australia awarded offshore asylum seeker processing centre contracts to companies with suspected links to arms and drug smuggling, corruption and bribery.
The federal government launched the review last year after questions were raised about the Home Affairs department’s conduct while the Coalition was in power, including why it gave a contract to a company whose director was convicted of bribing foreign officials.
Former secretary of the Department of Defence Dennis Richardson was appointed to conduct the review and found Home Affairs lacked “proper due diligence”.
“The department was operating within an environment of high pressure where time was often of the essence. However, with proper due diligence, Home Affairs could have considered alternative suppliers, and, if this was not possible, the implementation of mitigating measures. But this was not done,” the review found.
The review found coordination, communication and information flows within Home Affairs were inadequate, as was communication between Home Affairs and other areas of government, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
“Intelligence and other information, which was readily available, was not accessed. As a consequence, integrity risks were not identified.”
“In one instance, the AFP did not advise Home Affairs over a three year period that it was investigating an individual who it knew had a contractual relationship with Home Affairs,” the review found.
According to the review, Home Affairs had contractual relationships with:
- A company whose owners were suspected, through the ownership of another company, of seeking to circumvent US sanctions against Iran, and had extensive suspicious money movements suggesting money laundering, bribery and other criminal activity
- Companies under investigation by the AFP
- A company whose CEO was being investigated for possible drugs and arms smuggling into Australia. Although, at the time, it would have been unrealistic to have expected those responsible for contract and procurement to be aware of this
- An enterprise suspected of corruption
Mr Richardson made several recommendations, including that Home Affairs “enhance its integrity risk process and culture to better inform procurement and contract decision-making for regional processing arrangements”.
“A failure to do this exposes the Commonwealth to unacceptable risks and to reputational damage,” Mr Richardson said.
He also recommended “Home Affairs should foster and promote an ‘ask and tell’ operating environment that encourages collaboration, cooperation, proactive enquiry and information sharing.”
Specifically, he recommended a protocol for information-sharing between law enforcement and departments, suggesting Home Affairs could have avoided poor procurement decisions if it had known about the AFP’s investigations.
“Without such a protocol, you are going to get something like this happen again,” Mr Richardson said.
“It’s perfectly reasonable for the AFP not to share all their information all the time. Clearly they have to make judgements about when they do it… But when it’s offshore and you are in a high-risk integrity environment, it is reasonable to ask them whether they have any information relevant to a decision about to be made.”
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