Thursday, 26 October 2017
The incompetence of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection was on full display during Senate estimates this week. The minister's failures runs widely and deeply when it comes to the management of the offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru and his failure to secure other third-country resettlement arrangements for eligible refugees. The Manus Island RPC will close on 31 October as a result of a ruling of the Papua New Guinean supreme court and an agreement with the Papua New Guinean government. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed during Senate estimates that alternative accommodation arrangements for refugees won't be completed until 29 October, only two days prior to the closure of Manus Island RPC. Contracts worth between an estimated $150 million and $250 million to provide basic services for refugees in PNG after 31 October will be undertaken, but those contracts are yet to be signed. I emphasise the word 'estimated', because that's the closest thing to a guarantee that the immigration minister's department could provide.
It is not as if these issues have sneaked up on the government. For months the immigration minister has been unclear about and unwilling to explain Australia's involvement in offering support for refugees and the PNG government after 31 October. He's left it to the very last minute. The closure of Manus Island RPC was confirmed by both the Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea in April this year. The Australian said on 8 April:
Neither leader signalled any plan to find an alternative resettlement option for those who are not sent to the US under the refugee rearrangements that they had.
It's clear the immigration minister should have made securing third-country resettlement options, apart from the US, a priority since he became immigration minister in 2014. Instead, we see he's left his department to scramble in the final weeks before the closure of the Manus Island RPC. Manus Island and Nauru were set up by Labor as regional transit facilities for processing, but they have become places of indefinite detention by this government in its fifth year of operation and governance. Labor strongly supports the refugee resettlement agreement with the US and thanks the US for what they are doing.
It was revealed during Senate estimates that, in a similar fashion to the contracts for PNG, contracts for services in Nauru RPC after 31 October have not yet been finalised. The immigration minister needs to ensure that health services and welfare services for those in Nauru will be delivered when the current contractors pull out. A letter of intent was issued on 28 September for a company to take over these services, but that falls short of a contract. When it comes to a suitable contractor being selected, a limited tender process was run by the immigration minister's department. Senate estimates confirmed it was well and truly limited, with only one contractor being considered, and that company having no experience in delivering welfare services and limited experience in delivering garrison services. This flies entirely in the face of recommendations from the Auditor-General in the report Offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea: procurement of garrison support and welfare services, which read:
Of most concern is the department's management of processes for contract consolidation and the open tender.
There was no open tender to ensure ongoing services in Nauru were secured and no consideration of value for money or even whether basic service delivery standards would be met. It is another case of too little, too late with the immigration minister's last-minute plan to transfer refugees from Manus Island to Nauru. Only two eligible refugees have expressed interest in a transfer. The minister needs to find third-country arrangements other than the US.
Senate estimates also confirmed that the department is yet to replace its Chief Medical Officer and Surgeon General, following his resignation months ago. This means thousands of people across Australia's onshore and offshore immigration network are still without an advocate to ensure that medical care is based on the best medical advice. The secretary of the department couldn't even remember whether he'd briefed the immigration minister, his own minister, about the resignation of the Chief Medical Officer. Most Australians would expect a boss to know when one of their most senior employees has resigned. But apparently it's a different set of standards for the immigration minister. Australia deserves better than an incompetent minister who can't even secure the cybersafety of his own department. It should have complied with the top four mitigation strategies by June 2014. The government should do much better than this. (Time expired)