Saturday, 23 February 2019

Political Cartoons of the Week

Cathy Wilcox
Matt Golding

Quote of the Month

“Humanity, as a species grounded in nature, will, in this century, pass through the narrow corridor of its essence, and may not make it at all.” [Journalist Guy Rundle writing in Crikey, 14 February 2019]

Friday, 22 February 2019

People in rural and regional Australia – those bearing the brunt of climate change, drought, floods, limited services and inadequate infrastructure – deserve to know how the Morrison Government is spending their hard-earned tax dollars

Scratch the surface of that mismanaged super federal government department – the Dept. of Home Affairs in the portfolio of Minister for Home Affairs & Liberal MP for Dickson Peter Dutton – and one finds disturbing information.

Usually this information concerns the abuse of detained asylum seekers' human rights, including right to timely medical treatment and legal advice/representation.

This latest concerns a corporate entity variously identified as the Paladin Group (Paladin Australia Pty Ltd, formerly Paladin Group Pty Ltd, High Risk Security Group (Asia-Pacific) Pty Ltd, Nepean Bay SA), Paladin Solution PNG Ltd (Nepean Bay SA) and Paladin Holdings PTE Ltd (Singapore) and its est. $423 million in federal government contracts paid for from the taxpayer's dollar.

It is Paladin Holdings PTE Ltd out of Singapore (reportedly owned by Craig Trupp and Ian Stewart) which now appears to hold the primary government contract.

Despite Paladin's thin capitalisation, despite lack of corporate transparency, despite allegations of poor service delivery, despite Craig Trupp/s less than stellar business history and the fact that it appears he is no longer allowed entry to Papua New Guinea and despite another director of Paladin Solutions PNG Ltd allegedly being investigated for fraud/money laundering the Dept. of Home Affairs continues to make exclusive contacts with the Paladin Group.

This Paladin contract is fast shaping up as the new catchphrase for suspected political corruption………..

Paladin premises, Port Moresby. Image Dan Ilic
Financial Review, 17 February 2019:

The family of one of PNG's most powerful politicians is directly benefiting from Paladin's $423 million worth of security contracts on Manus Island, awarded by the federal government in a closed tender.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show in January last year Paladin Solutions PNG entered into an agreement with Peren Investment, a company controlled by the brothers of PNG's parliamentary speaker, Job Pomat.

Mr Pomat is the local member for Manus, a key ally of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and deputy leader of the ruling People's National Congress. His family are among those who claim traditional ownership of the land where the refugees are being housed.

The agreement, for local employment and the provision of other services, came just a month after landowners blockaded the refugee transit centre in December 2017, demanding a greater share of the money being spent on the island.

When asked about any link between Paladin and PNG politicians, Attorney-General Christian Porter said it was not in his portfolio area, but such claims warranted further investigation.

"I don't have any line of sight into those sorts of claims and they have to be investigated thoroughly," he told the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday.

The issue is set to be examined further at Senate Estimates hearings on Monday and Tuesday, after a series of articles in the The Australian Financial Review raised questions about how the thinly capitalised Paladin, which had little experience, a poor reputation and no corporate structure, was awarded such a lucrative contract.
The contracts were awarded as part of a "limited tender", which typically means only one party was invited to bid.

In the days following the first Financial Review articles Paladin shuffled its ownership structure, removed information from its website and changed its Australian registered office from a beach shack on Kangaroo Island to a serviced office in Canberra. That office did not have the phone connected on Friday.

Financial Review, 15 February 2019:

One issue that raised concern was Paladin's peculiar head office set-up. The Kangaroo Island address had no listed phone number and could not receive mail from Australia Post, highlighting a general air of secrecy around the company.

The Financial Review, 13 February 2019:

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has moved to distance himself from a controversial government contractor that is providing security on Manus Island, arguing he had "no sight" of the tender process and it was a matter for department officials.

In the first public comments since The Australian Financial Review revealed little-known company Paladin was earning up to $17 million a month to provide security at three refugee centres on Manus Island after a closed tender process, Mr Dutton said those responsible were "the secretary of the department ultimately or delegated to someone within the department".

The Financial Review, 11 February 2019:

The key beneficiary of a $423 million government contract to provide security for refugees on Manus Island left a string of bad debts and failed contracts across Asia, raising further questions about how the Paladin group won such a lucrative tender.

As pressure builds on the government to explain the hefty cost of its offshore processing regime, further details have emerged about the Paladin founder, Craig Thrupp, and his time in East Timor and Indonesia.

The Financial Review, 10 February 2019:

As federal Parliament prepares for another fractious debate around refugees on Monday, an investigation by The Australian Financial Review has found the Department of Home Affairs overlooked allegations of deception, lying during the tender process and questionable payments when it extended Paladin's contract on January 3. These allegations emerged during a bitter legal dispute between Paladin and its former chief executive for PNG, Craig Coleman, who is suing the company for breach of contract.

In addition, Paladin's founder and key executive, Craig Thrupp, is no longer able to enter PNG, while another local director, Kisokau Powaseu, was detained in Port Moresby last month and charged with misappropriating funds and money laundering……

Paladin, controlled by Mr Thrupp, a former Australian soldier, and his business partner Ian Stewart, has also recently purchased the contentious PNG security outfit Black Swan, a company repeatedly forced to deny rumours it has links to the family of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill…..

"Australian taxpayers are expending a huge amount of money but we don't see much of it being utilised on the ground in Manus," said Abdul Aziz, a Sudanese refugee who has been on the island for five years.

"The maintenance service is very poor … and they have not bought any new equipment in many years," says Mr Aziz.

This was confirmed by a UNHCR report published last July which noted rooms at the East Lorengau camp were below international shelter standards for accommodation over three months, while other areas had leaking pipes, a lack of fire alarms and showers that were not working.

The report did however note improvements in other areas like the ratio of toilets and the general accommodation conditions in other camps.

Calculations by the Financial Review indicate Paladin is being paid on average $20.8 million a month by the government to provide security at all three sites and manage the East Lorengau Transit Centre. That amount has risen 48 per cent from an average of $14 million a month last year. A Home Affairs spokesperson said there were now 422 people housed at the three camps – 213 at East Lorengau, 111 at West Lorengau and 98 asylum seekers at Hillside Haus.

That means on a daily basis it now costs the Australian government over $1600 to house each refugee on Manus, not including food and welfare services, more than double the price of a suite at the Shangri-La hotel in Sydney.

Typically, profit margins are as much as 40 per cent on these contracts because of the risks involved. However, Paladin's margin is "unbelievable", according to one source familiar with the this type of work. That's because the company uses mostly local staff and its security guards earn about $2 an hour.

The company is believed to have just over a dozen expatriate staff, who might be earning $150,000 each. Home Affairs says it provides security, transport, IT services and emergency management. Even if you build in generous contingencies for evacuations, emergency response teams and local consultants, Paladin's total costs are estimated to be less than $3 million a month. That means they are pocketing more than $17 million a month to manage the East Lorengau centre and secure the three camps, which have been used as primary accommodation for refugees and asylum seekers since the offshore processing centre at the nearby Lombrum naval base was closed in October 2017.

The Guardian, 17 February 2019:

Penny Wong has indicated Labor will target the Paladin offshore detention security contract in Senate estimates this week, accusing the government of failing to explain why the company was awarded $420m in contracts through closed tender…..

Wong told reporters in Adelaide the Paladin contract had “a lot of questions around it” and it was “deeply concerning” a company with “such a poor track record” was awarded $420m.

Wong accused Porter of giving answers that were “not consistent” with Dutton’s because “this went to a closed tender – not an open tender, [it was] not an open competitive process”.

Wong accused Dutton of “trying to wash [his] hands of it”. “Tomorrow is Senate estimates – what I’d say to the government is: stop hiding.

“Why don’t you front up and tell the truth about why that contract is awarded in such circumstances, why it went to closed tender?”

Financial Review, 18 February 2019:

Paladin, the security firm at the centre of the $423 million contract scandalhas a secret office in Canberra, just three kilometres from Parliament House.

The Australian Financial Review visited an office location near the fashionable Kingston Foreshore precinct in which Paladin staff are based.

That address, however, is different to the Canberra location that was provided to corporate regulators as the company's registered office and principal place of business, in a filing last week.

Paladin had previously advised the corporate regulator that its registered office and principal place of business was a remote location on Kangaroo Island in South Australia that had no post box and was therefore unable to receive mail.

But as coverage of the secretive company, which has been awarded contracts totalling $423 million to provide security on Manus Island, has intensified, Paladin has since made changes to its address and shareholder structure.

Paladin Australia notified regulators that its shareholding had transferred from the company's Hong Kong-registered entity to the Singapore company, which is the entity granted a government contract worth $333 million. The company is owned by 38-year-old, Canberra-born former soldier CraigThrupp and 41-year-old Ian Duncan Stewart.

On Thursday, Paladin Australia also changed its registered address to a serviced office in the suburb of Barton. As of Friday, the company had not been set up with phones to receive calls.

But sources with knowledge of the company, said Paladin actually operated out of another Canberra location on Eyre Street in the Kingston district.

That address is two kilometres away from the Servcorp address provided to regulators.

There's no signage or branding of any kind outside the office and apartment block and the ground floor workspaces are covered by heavy blinds.

When the Financial Review buzzed the intercom for the unmarked offices on the ground floor, a woman answered and Mr Thrupp came to the entrance.

He did not identify himself or make any comment before going back inside the locked entrance.

Staff walked back and forth between the two secure office areas, using electronic access cards to enter and exit.

The secret office location raises further questions about Paladin and its apparent attempts at hiding its principal place of business.

Paladin's previously registered office in Kangaroo Island had no mail box, which made it near impossible for the company to receive mail and be served legal documents.

Financial Review, 19 February 2019:

Paladin affair: Fact-checking what Home Affairs said in Senate Estimates

The beach shack

Home Affairs dismissed Paladin having its Australian head office at a "beach shack" on Kangaroo Island as unimportant, saying that entity was not involved in the Manus Island contract.

Court documents show Paladin's former chief executive, Craig Coleman, who was the project director for Manus Island and exercised control over the Commonwealth contract was employed by the Australian company, which was registered to that beach shack on Kangaroo Island.

In November 2017, two months after Paladin Solutions signed its first letter of intent with the Australian government it registered with Australian regulators as a foreign entity. The registered office it provided was the "beach shack". Both directors provided this location as their address.

Fraud and money laundering

Home Affairs said the Paladin director Kisokau Powaseu who has been charged with 106 counts of fraud and one of money laundering was not a director of any entities contracted to the Commonwealth.

Under questioning Home Affairs conceded Mr Powaseu was a director of Paladin Solutions, the entity which received $89 million of payments after a letter of intent was signed in September 2017.

Paladin Solutions is registered in PNG and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Paladin Singapore, the entity which currently holds the $333 million government contract. Mr Powaseu was appointed a director of the company in May 2018.

In court documents relating to Paladin's dispute with its former CEO Mr Coleman, the company agrees Mr Powaseu was a director of Paladin Solutions PNG which was "engaged with the Australian government".

The Paladin web

The department expanded and contracted the Paladin group of companies at its convenience. On the issue of Powaseu, the department was quick to stress the point that this individual had no ties to Paladin Singapore, the entity contracted by the Australian government. (This was later found to be inaccurate - see the Fraud and money laundering section of this story.)

However, when the department wished to demonstrate Paladin's long track record, it was prepared to refer to other companies in the group including Paladin Solutions, Pomwan Paladin and Paladin Aus.

'Global' Company

Home Affairs also relied on Paladin's collection of subsidiaries in stressing it was "a global company" with clients across the region. Deputy secretary Cheryl-Anne Moy said Paladin has "a very extensive and a very experienced operation" listing among its key clients the Australian Defence Force, which used it for APEC security support and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for which it had provided security in Port Moresby for nearly three years.

The department later clarified that those clients had come to the firm via Paladin's mysterious purchase of one of PNG's biggest private security firms, Black Swan, in July last year. That was followed by an interjection from one of the senators who said the purchase had come about because "you gave them so much money." At the time the government awarded Paladin the sizeable contract, it did not have these clients.

Home Affairs also conceded Paladin's lack of experience in dealing with sizeable contracts had been one of the risks identified during the tender process. While Paladin had been operating on Manus Island, as a subcontractor to Broadspectrum and Wilson Security, these had been much smaller contracts.

In his statement of claim, former CEO Mr Coleman claimed just three weeks before being awarded the September 2017 contract Paladin was "not well prepared to perform the role provided for under the Proposal".

"Paladin did not have the corporate structure, human and other resources or processes that would permit it … to perform the roles required under the Proposal," he alleged.

Money up front

When asked whether Paladin was advanced $10 million of funds by the government prior to delivering services as part of the contract, Home Affairs initially said this was false.

Upon further questioning, it emerged Paladin was paid $5.5 million as part of a letter of intent ahead of any services it provided and subsequently received further payments totalling $89 million before a formal contract had been agreed.

Access denied

Home Affairs said it had to check whether it was made directly aware Paladin managing director and part-owner Craig Thrupp was unable to enter PNG.
That is despite the PNG government confirming on Monday "the visa of one of the directors of the company [Paladin] was cancelled because of the company not adhering to the government's position on recruitment of local labour".

Paladin also confirmed to the Financial Review a week earlier Mr Thrupp's APEC Permit (a regional visa) had been cancelled and said since then he had not attempted to enter PNG…..


Australian Government, AusTender, retrieved 18 February 2019:

CN ID: CN3496748-A2
Agency: Department of Home Affairs
Amendment Publish Date: 3-Jan-2019
Category: Management support services
Contract Period: 28-Feb-2018 to 30-Jun-2019
Contract Value (AUD): $333,546,146.40
Amendment Value (AUD): $109,239,312.00
Amendment Start Date: 1-Jan-2019
Description: Garrison Services at ELRTC & additional sites PNG
Parent CN: CN3496748
Procurement Method: Limited tender
Limited Tender Condition: 10.3.e. Additional deliveries by original supplier intended as replacement parts, extensions, or continuation for existing goods or services for compatibility.
Confidentiality - Contract: No
Confidentiality - Outputs: No
Consultancy: No
Agency Reference ID:0070021821
Supplier Details
Postal Address: 4 Battery Road China Building
Town/City: Singapore
Postcode: 049908
State/Territory: Outside Australia
ABN: Exempt
CN ID: CN3496748-A1
Agency: Department of Home Affairs
Amendment Publish Date: 29-Oct-2018
Category: Management support services
Contract Period: 28-Feb-2018 to 30-Jun-2019
Contract Value (AUD): $224,306,834.40
Amendment Value (AUD): $47,430,000.00
Amendment Start Date:
1-Nov-2018 Description: Garrison Services at ELRTC & additional sites PNG
Parent CN: CN3496748
Procurement Method: Limited tender
Limited Tender Condition: 10.3.e. Additional deliveries by original supplier intended as replacement parts, extensions, or continuation for existing goods or services for compatibility.
Confidentiality - Contract: No
Confidentiality - Outputs: No
Consultancy: No
Agency Reference ID: 0070021821
Supplier Details
Postal Address: 4 Battery Road China Building
Town/City: Singapore Postcode: 049908
State/Territory: Outside Australia
ABN: Exempt
Provision of Garrison Services at East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre, Manus
CN ID: CN3470670
Agency: Department of Home Affairs
Publish Date: 27-Nov-2017
Category: Management support services
Contract Period: 21-Sep-2017 to 28-Feb-2018
Contract Value (AUD): $89,243,817.76 [contract value delivered by four separate letters of intent as per Senate Estimates Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee evidence on 18.02.2019]
Original: $39,743,817.76
Description: Provision of Garrison Services at East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre Manus
CN3470670-A2 - change to contract term & value (23-Feb-2018)
Amendment Value (AUD): $16,500,000.00
CN3470670-A1 - Increased value and extended end date (28-Dec-2017)
Contract Value (AUD): $72,743,817.76
Procurement Method: Limited tender
Limited Tender Exemption: Paragraph 2.6 was applied in some part. [This contract was a direct approach to Paladin by way of an initial special measures arrangement as per Senate Estimates Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee evidence on 18.02.2019. A departmental decision was later taken to include future contacts with Paladin Holdings Singapore as special measures rather than conduct open tenders]
ATM ID: RFQ1750034
Confidentiality - Contract: No
Confidentiality - Outputs: No
Agency Reference ID: 0070020581
Supplier Details
Postal Address:
State/Territory: Outside Australia
ABN: Exempt

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Mining Exploration without Social Licence in 2019: Castillo Copper expects to make an announcement in respect of the status of its exploration tenements on Monday, 4 March 2019

The Daily Examiner, 19 February 2019:

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis has told an anti-mining group he does not support short-term mining that risks the environment of our area.

It comes while Castillo Copper has again requested an extension to the voluntary suspension of its securities on the Australian Security Exchange.

This is the third time they have requested an extension following their initial suspension on December 27.

The initial suspension came after the NSW Resources Regulator suspended two exploration licences near Cangai, northwest of Grafton.

Resources Regulator director of compliance operations Matthew Newton said action was taken to suspend the operations due to a number of serious compliance issues being identified at a recent inspection.

“The contraventions related to alleged non-compliance with conditions of both exploration licences, which were uncovered during an inspection on November 22, 2018,” Mr Newton said.

Castillo’s letter said their board remained in active engagement with the Regulator as it continued its inquiries.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Stop Cangai Mine group and the Gumbaynggirr Nation met with Nationals MP Mr Gulaptis in Grafton on Monday to voice their concerns about Castillo Copper’s optimistic reports to shareholders that could lead to a mine in the Clarence Valley.

“The hype promising jobs for locals when the exploration licence was first reported in 2017 was misleading,” Stop Cangai Mine’s Karen von Ahlefeldt said.

“Any mining jobs gained will be at the loss of jobs in fishing, farming and tourism.
“We need more inspectors, paid for by exploration licence fees to enforce contractors compliance. Self-regulation does not work.”

The group told Mr Gulaptis they were concerned there could be plans to ship tailings from the old Cangai Mine to China for processing, which would fund the development of an open-cut cobalt mine, but Mr Gulaptis said an approval to do so would require a development application to be lodged and at the moment the exploration activities had been suspended.
“I was glad that their exploration licence was suspended by the NSW Resources Regulator for breaches of their licence,” Mr Gulaptis said.

“The whole purpose of having a Resources Regulator is to ensure mining companies comply with the terms of their licence and if companies breach their licence conditions then they should answer for it.”

The group said that both Greens state candidate Dr Greg Clancy and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Steve Cansdell had publicly announced their strong opposition to the mine.

Castillo Copper informed the Australian Stock Exchange on 4 February 2019 that it had completed remedial work at the exploration site and awaits notice of NSW Resources Regulator approval to recommence mining exploration at Cangai. 

On 18 February it applied for a third voluntary trading suspension pending an announcement in respect of the status of its exploration tenements which Castillo expects to make on Monday, 4 March 2019.

There isn't enough water in the Darling River system to avoid catastrophic outcomes

Australian Academy of Science, media release, 18 February 2019:    

Scientists lay out new plan to save the Darling River
Scientists asked to investigate the fish kills in the Murray-Darling River system in NSW say a failure to act resolutely and quickly on the fundamental cause—insufficient flows—threatens the viability of the Darling, the fish and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

The multidisciplinary panel of experts, convened by the Australian Academy of Science, also found engagement with local residents, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, has been cursory at best, resulting in insufficient use of their knowledge about how the system is best managed.

The scientists say their findings point to serious deficiencies in governance and management, which collectively have eroded the intent of the Water Act 2007 and the framework of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (2012).

Chair of the expert panel, ANU Professor Craig Moritz FAA, said the sight of millions of dead fish from the three fish kills was a wake-up call.

“To me, it was like the coral bleaching event for the mainland,” Professor Moritz said.
“Our review of the fish kills found there isn’t enough water in the Darling system to avoid catastrophic outcomes. This is partly due to the ongoing drought. However, analysis of rainfall and river flow data over decades points to excess water extraction upstream.”

The expert panel recommends that urgent steps can and should be taken within six months to improve the quality of water throughout the Darling River.

“That should include the formation of a Menindee Lakes restoration project to determine sustainable management of the lakes system and lower Darling and Darling Anabranch,” Professor Moritz said.

The panel also recommends a return to the framework of the 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan to improve environmental outcomes.

“The best possible scenario is water in the Darling all the way to the bottom and in most years. We are hopeful that this could be achieved if the panel’s recommendations are implemented,” Professor Moritz said.

Australian Academy of Science President, Professor John Shine, said the scientific advice of the expert panel is a synthesis of the best available knowledge.

“In undertaking this body of work the multidisciplinary expert panel has collaborated with other relevant experts as required and received extensive data from a number of Federal and State agencies,” Professor Shine said.

These agencies include the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the Land and Water Division of the NSW Department of Industry, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, in addition to data and information provided by researchers in many related fields. The expert panel wishes to acknowledge the cooperation of these bodies and individuals in promptly providing data.

The expert panel also operated closely with the Independent Panel to Assess Fish Deaths in the Lower Darling, initiated by the Government and chaired by Professor Robert Vertessy, including sharing data and a reciprocal review of findings.

The expert panel report

The main findings and recommendations are in the executive summary. The report was independently assessed by seven independent peer reviewers, including one international reviewer.

Related media releases

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Liberals caught behaving badly - yet again. WARNING: Contains offensive comment

Apparently some NSW Young Liberals thought that behaving like sexual predators was a fun way to campaign in the lead up to the March 2019 state election.

That is until the matter came to the notice of the voting public and their party superiors decided it wasn't funny anymore because it could cost them votes.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February 2019:

Four NSW Young Liberals have been kicked out of the party for making lewd and derogatory comments about women in an online chat group meant for election campaigning.

The four used the dating app Tinder to connect with women who they hoped to convince to vote Liberal and then made sexually explicit comments about them in a Facebook group.

In one instance, one of the Young Liberals who works for a senior NSW Liberal MP, posted a photo of a woman he was chatting with on Tinder, describing her as a “potato".

"A potato that can vote," the Young Liberal wrote.
“Then root and boot her and leave some HTVs (how to vote cards). F..k I could go some fries right now."

Other comments in the chat include references to a woman voting "blue", the Liberal colour.

"I like blue but don't give me blue balls," another male member of the group wrote.
One of the men replied: "I don't think he wants to bang a potato".

Several female Young Liberals in the group chat were horrified by the comments and pleaded with their male colleagues to end the discussion.

"Anytime would be a good time to stop," one woman in the group wrote.

Really disappointing to see so many nasty comments about a woman who you don't know."

Another said: “People wonder why women don’t want to join the Liberal Party."

One of the men responded: "Sorry to have started it, just thought it was a fun way of campaigning."

The group, set up when several Young Liberals were helping in last year’s South Australian election, had 17 members, including NSW Young Liberals president Harry Stutchbury.

Other members in the group hold executive positions with the Young Liberals and some work for senior NSW ministers and MPs. One of the four who was disciplined works for a NSW Nationals minister.

Mr Stutchbury, who did not make any comments in the chat group, said he received a complaint from women the morning after the discussion.

He said he told the four men involved that their behaviour was not acceptable but he took no further action and it was not reported to the party's head office.

The first Liberal Party officials knew of the online chat was when they were alerted to it by The Sun-Herald, despite the comments being made almost 12 months ago.

"I welcome the decisive action the party has taken," Mr Stutchbury said.

The four received the maximum available penalty late on Friday and were suspended from the party for six months after officials saw the contents of the chat group…..

The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February 2019:

Two NSW Young Liberals who were kicked out of the party after making lewd comments about women have been sacked from their state government jobs.

The Liberals, one who worked for Kiama MP Gareth Ward and the other for Tourism Minister Adam Marshall, no longer have jobs with the government, sources have confirmed.