Dodgy companies won massive contracts, review into offshore processing found

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Massive government contracts for the nation’s offshore processing system were won by companies suspected of bribery, money laundering and drugs and arms smuggling, a scathing review has found.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil seized on the findings, accusing the now opposition leader Peter Dutton of overseeing a “regime being used as a slush fund by suspected criminals” while he was the responsible minister.

“This is an extraordinary report that should have been commissioned years ago, under the former government,” Ms O’Neil said.

The report, conducted by former ASIO director general and Defence chief Dennis Richardson, found a lack of due diligence when it came to contracts with companies with “limited or no public profile”.

“Intelligence and other information, which was readily available, was not accessed,” Mr Richardson concluded in his report.

“As a consequence, integrity risks were not identified.”

Mr Richardson acknowledged that even if they’d had that information there may have been “no option but to enter into contracts with these companies”.

But the timing of the review’s release, which dropped just hours before the home affairs department’s appearance at Senate estimates, was lashed by the Greens and the Coalition.

The review was handed back to the government on October 10 last year.

“So government’s had this incendiary scathing report for four months and then chooses to dump it out into the public arena, hours or minutes before the Senate estimates committee. Do you think that is satisfactory minister?” senator Nick McKim probed.

Murray Watt, who represents the home affairs minister in the Senate, denied Labor had sat on the report, insisting any delay was to allow government to prepare its response

The report did not find evidence of any ministerial involvement in the regional processing contracts or procurement decisions.

No individuals were referred to the Australian Federal Police or the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Ms O’Neil said the review left the door open to potential criminal investigations by the AFP but ruled out establishing a royal commission into the matter.

Newly appointed department secretary Stephanie Foster insisted there was no “unfinished business” to investigate during her, telling senators she specifically asked Mr Richardson if there were any lingering issues within home affairs.

“I asked him explicitly, did he feel from his review – because he was the one who looked in detail at all other arrangements – that there was unfinished business, which as a new secretary, I needed to prosecute, and his response was: ‘no’,” she said.

She said Mr Richardson felt there was no need to “go back in time and unravel” who in the department was responsible.

“He felt that certainly in terms of he and I talking about my approach going forward, that I should focus on making sure that we learned from those mistakes and got them right in the future,” Ms Foster said.

A frustrated Senator McKim said it would be an “an egregious failure” if the people within the department involved in the decision making were not named.

“What I’m getting today is no one’s going to be held accountable, people are going to skate,” he said.