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Labor MP Mike Kelly at a press conference announcing his retirement from parliament (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The decision by Labor MP Mike Kelly, who has resigned his seat of Eden-Monaro for health reasons, to take a position with US data mining firm Palantir, has again shone a light on a company regularly identified as one of the most evil in the tech sector.

The ABC’s Andrew Greene revealed Kelly’s new gig, and noted that Kelly had previously used parliament to praise the company.

Kelly was briefly a minister for Defence Materiel under the restored Rudd government, but more relevantly had been on parliament’s powerful joint committee for intelligence and security (PJCIS) from 2016. The committee regularly deals with US intelligence figures, and some members meet with private sector firms that work in the intelligence and defence sectors.

Kelly’s background before politics is in the Australian Defence Force, so a post-political “desk job” (in his words) in a defence company would be unsurprising — that is the area in which his expertise lies. But a position with Palantir is very different, especially given Kelly’s time on the PJCIS.

Crikey last examined Palantir, which provides software tools to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies and private sector companies analyse surveillance, financial and social media data, in 2013. Palantir was involved in a plan to attack Wikileaks and publicly smear US-Brazilian journalist Glenn Greenwald, before its exposure forced a rather hollow apology.

Since then, the company — co-founded by strong Trump ally Peter Thiel — has only added to its foul reputation. Despite denials from the company, its products are “mission critical” to the Trump administration’s detention and deportation programs and the raids that net deportees. It had links with the notorious Cambridge Analytica, and has been revealed as having secret deals with US police agencies to enable warrantless spying on citizens.

And it has also significantly expanded its presence in Australia. In 2013, the company had just 14 publicly identified staff locally, but now has at least 30. It has also garnered massive contracts with Australia’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies: over $4 million from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission since 2014, $1.3 million from the Australian Signals Directorate last year, $7.7 million from Austrac, and over $25 million in contracts with Defence in the last seven years.

Nearly all of these contracts have been secured without competition, through limited tender arrangements, whereby only a small number of firms, or just one, are invited to tender, using an exemption from the normal Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines requirement for open tender.

Palantir has also secured contracts with state governments: Victoria’s corrections department uses Palantir; the NSW Crime Commission uses a suite of Palantir products.

With Mike Kelly on board, the company will be hoping to continue rapidly expanding its Australian footprint, regardless how many scandals accrue.

Peter Fray

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