Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019


Independent Health Advice Panel; Consideration

5:39 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to take note of documents produced under order by the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Cash. On 12 September the Senate ordered Minister Dutton and the home affairs department to produce a series of documents relating to the ongoing performance of Paladin. It's one of a growing number of motions that this chamber has passed in relation to the Paladin scandal, and I thank those on the crossbench who have joined Labor in demanding accountability from the government on this issue.

We've had to move these motions because this Liberal-Nationals third-term government, particularly this minister and this department, are allergic to transparency. Let's remind ourselves that Paladin are a tiny firm registered to a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, where they were handpicked for a half-billion-dollar contract by this government to provide services at the refugee detention facilities on Manus Island. The government would like us to ignore this inconvenient fact. They'd also like us to ignore that they were warned by KPMG that the firm was a moderate to high financial risk and that the company lacked the capital and the experience to manage such large contracts, particularly one that was 35 times the company's annual revenue in 2016. I mean, seriously: what could possibly go wrong?

Well, as we now know, just about everything did. A senior home affairs official told estimates, with regard to Paladin:

To date, we're quite happy with the services that they're undertaking.

Those comments were made in February 2019. Thanks to the work of the Senate and the documents that it ordered the government to produce, we now know that 'quite happy' was, at best, quite generous. The documents produced under this order reveal that Paladin recorded 3,740 failed performance measures between July 2018 and April 2019 alone. That's a staggering number of errors, mistakes and failures, and the vast majority occurring before the home affairs official claimed that they were 'quite happy' with Paladin's performance.

On 10 September 2019 Senator Cash told this chamber that these incidents were 'often related to relatively minor administrative failures'. These supposed minor issues actually equated to over $11 million worth of abatements that Paladin is due to pay back to the government for failing to perform the duties it was contracted to perform. I wouldn't describe these issues as minor. We know about a number of them because of a previous order which demonstrated the utter farce that is occurring on Mr Dutton's watch in Papua New Guinea. Paladin staff have been fired for unprofessional behaviour in meetings, inappropriate posts on social media and drink driving. The company openly asked the department whether it should 'help out' in the case of 'unforeseen bribes and corrupt levels of fees' during contract negotiations. Let's be clear: Paladin asked the department to help it out in paying unforeseen bribes and corrupt levels of fees. And we know that a home affairs official literally fell through the floor of a building because the wood had rotted away, despite the fact that the company is responsible for maintaining the centre as part of its $20 million a month pay cheque.

Worse still, the Department of Home Affairs left it to Paladin to self-report all their own failings. We now know that home affairs staff were so scared to visit the centre, because of concerns for their safety, that they didn't perform an inspection for 15 months. This is despite the fact that Ernst & Young had warned in a report that there is an inherent risk in the significant reliance placed on self-reporting, and that was specifically in regard to Paladin. This Paladin contract is an utter train wreck. It's a half-billion-dollar train wreck that the Australian public has paid for, yet it's totally par for the course of what we've come to expect under the incompetent leadership of Minister Dutton. The government backed the wrong horse on Paladin. But instead of cutting ties with the company after their thousands upon thousands of errors, they extended the contract again in July 2019, and that really says all that needs to be said about Minister Dutton and his colleagues opposite.

This is a government that doesn't respect the taxpayer enough to use their money wisely or to tell them the truth when they make a mistake. This is a government that throws good money after bad rather than fessing up when they get it wrong. And this is a government that shies away from oversight, accountability and review wherever possible. The Paladin affair is a case study of everything wrong with this government, and we will continue to hold the minister and those opposite accountable for their waste, mismanagement and incompetence in home affairs.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.