The Australian government’s independent auditor has delivered a scathing review condemning the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for spending an unauthorised $2.2bn on its offshore detention programs.

The Australian National Audit Office denounced the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for its handling of the contracts to run offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, and failing to get value for public money. The Department’s management of the garrison support and welfare services at these offshore processing centres fell well short of good practice. It was reported that the department did not have a detailed plan of the requirements, nor were there any standards applied. The garrison support and welfare contracts were established “in circumstances of great haste to give effect to government policy decisions”. A significant weakness was observed in the DIBP’s contract management practices.

Audit objective and scope

The audit’s main criteria was to assess whether DIBP had effectively managed and established the contracts for garrison support and welfare services at offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea while further analysing whether the processes met the requirements of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, including the achievement and consideration of value for money.

Key findings

ANAO reported that:

  • Delegate authorisations were not always recorded in respect to the $2.3bn made in payments between September 2012 and April 2016
  • An appropriate delegate authorised payments totalling up to $80 million
  • $1.1bn was approved by unauthorised DIBP officers
  • The remaining $1.1bn had no departmental records of who authorised the payments

The ANAO highlighted weaknesses in the Department’s management of procurement. Additionally, contracts totalling well over $1 billion were made without clear documentation and assessment of value for money.

In addition, safety concerns were raised in regards to the gaps found in the CCTV recordings taken in the detention camps. The Nauru and Manus detention centres have been swamped with allegations of violent incidents and the mistreatment of detainees by guards, including systemic physical and sexual abuse as well as cases of self- harm and attempted suicides.

The department is required to keep CCTV footage of all incidents in detention. However, the auditor found that incidents and video records did not always reconcile. There were records of incidents with no corresponding video, as well as gaps in the recording of incidents.

Past ANAO audit findings

The ANAO reported that:

  • The Department’s contracting framework had not established a clear standard on the expected level and quality of services
  • The Department’s ability to monitor the efficiency and performance of the contractors was limited by the lack of reliance on incident reporting when the standards were not being met.

Contract management

The department failed to develop an effective method and frameworks to manage the contracts and wa s unable to determine whether the contract objectives were fully met. The Contract Authority and Contract Administrator were responsible for contract management. However, while the roles of DIBP officers were outlined in the contracts, offshore operations that were led by the Operations Team Leader did not report to these positions. This resulted in a lack of clarity in contract roles and responsibilities.

The Department’s failures

  • No systemic approach to establishing and maintain records of the contracts were developed
  • Key records were not created, were missing, or were incomplete
  • Poor record keeping has affected the DIBP’s ability to protect the Commonwealth’s interests
  • Risk assessment was not reviewed or updated when risks materialised.

What does it all mean?

The Department did not adopt an efficient and systemic approach to monitoring the goods and services delivered under the contracts. A structured inspection program was not administered and the department failed to establish and maintain records in support of the contracts. The recurrence of these deficiencies within the Department has resulted in a higher than necessary expense for taxpayers as well as a significant risk for the Australian Government’s reputation.

Author: Elif Le Son