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The secretive business of detention dirty work

  • 21 August 2019


If you're not burdened by a conscience, it's a perfect get-rich-quick scheme: offer 'garrison' services to governments reluctant to get their hands dirty. Ensure the vulnerable people you 'manage' are hidden away, and demonised by bigoted politicians and right-wing commentators. Hire cheap labour, minimise your tax, and make millions.

Paladin, the Australian company running the now-dwindling immigration facilities in Lorengau, Manus Island, is a prime example: with limited experience and a shadowy record, this small outfit has been earning $20m per month, pocketing most of it.

On its website, Paladin says it works in 'challenging environments' to 'manage risk' and 'reduce client exposure'. Translation: we'll take the heat off you. This secretive company won the Manus Island contract in a controversial closed tender process. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has said he had no hand in the $530m deal, which is now the subject of two probes.

Australia's use of Manus Island as an offshore detention base is being quietly wound down, thanks to pressure from the Papua New Guinean government. But around 350 asylum seekers remain in PNG, their daily lives managed and monitored by private contractors. Paladin oversees the 120-odd remaining men who've been detained on Manus Island for six years. The company has presided over a regime of despair, with over 70 reported suicide attempts or self-harm incidents since the federal election.

Paladin guards also oversee the Granville Motel, Citi Boutique and Lodge 10 in Port Moresby, where many asylum seekers are housed. The men held at Citi Boutique are subject to strict curfews and arbitrary rules. At the Granville, where sick men await medical treatment, there have been several suicide attempts, and an asylum seeker was assaulted during an armed holdup in July. 

Last week, on 12 August, some 50 asylum seekers were moved from Manus to the new Australian-funded Bomana Immigration Centre, part of a Port Moresby prison complex, in an arrangement refugee advocates fear will be indefinite. The facility is run by Controlled Outcomes, which is jointly owned by Australian security firm C5 and PNG company Tactical Solutions International. While Home Affairs denies any involvement in awarding the multi-million dollar Bomana contract, Australian government officials were present when the tenders were assessed. 

On Monday 19 August the PNG government offered the asylum-seekers who remain on Manus Island voluntary relocation to Port Moresby, where they've been promised 'residential accommodation' and healthcare. At the time of writing (20 August), most of the