The Australian Government is being accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the investing of criminal proceeds in Australia, for fear of losing the right to detain asylum seekers on Manus Island.
An Australian Federal Police officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the Government is ignoring extra-judicial killings and rampant corruption in the PNG police force because of sensitivities around the Manus Island detention centre.
The AFP’s mission in PNG is to help local police improve standards, but the officer said he’d been shocked by the scale of corruption and human rights abuses committed by the Royal PNG Constabulary (RPNGC).
“The RPNGC were essentially murdering people, raping people, burning villages down,” he said.
“No-one expected to see that.”
The officer was deployed in PNG’s second-largest city, Lae, from 2013 to 2014.
He said he saw local police commit horrific crimes but his reports were essentially ignored by his superiors.
“What we soon noticed was that anything that painted the government of PNG with corruption, or the RPNGC with their brutality, murder and rape was being sanitised,” he said.
The AFP has 73 officers in PNG in a so-called advisory capacity.
They do not have any police powers or the legal protection to take an active policing role.
In a statement, the AFP said the operating environment in PNG was difficult and the officers’ work there was “extremely challenging”.
It said it had reviewed reports from the officer and hadn’t found any matters requiring further action.
But it is not just in PNG the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Government are accused of ignoring crime.
Transparency campaigners and researchers say the Government has allowed what it calls “dirty money” into Australia because it is too scared to prosecute corrupt PNG officials.
Griffith University corruption and money laundering researcher Professor Jason Sharman said they were allowing the proceeds of corruption to be invested in Australia.
“I think that there’s criminal money from Papua New Guinea that the Australian Government knows about,” Professor Sharman said.
“The Australian Government is choosing not to take action and one of the main reasons for that is the Manus Island deal.”
He said all elements of the large Australian aid and diplomatic contingent in Papua New Guinea overlook major problems in order to avoid jeopardising Australia’s asylum-seeker deal with the PNG government.
“All roads lead to Manus and the priority of keeping the asylum-seekers hosting deal is paramount and other things that endanger that deal tend to be slightly swept under the carpet,” Professor Sharman said.
Transparency International is also concerned by allegations Australian officials are not acting on crime and human rights abuses.
Its PNG chairman, Lawrence Stephens, said observers in the country were disappointed with Australia’s attitude.
“Generally, when you talk to them, they say that Australia doesn’t appear to have the willpower to argue back and say that some things that are going on here should not be happening,” he said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not responded to questions about whether the Manus Island detention centre agreement affects Australia’s mission in Papua New Guinea.