Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Private contractor Serco escapes scrutiny in the detention debate

My following piece appears today in Crikey:

I visited Villawood on Sunday — alongside a delegation of union leaders and Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon — and met several asylum seekers subsequently involved in the protest that ended peacefully last night with the arrival of UNHCR officials. We spent hours conversing with men in their 20s and up from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

They all said they couldn’t understand why the Immigration Department had told them personally that it was now safe enough for them to return home as any objective examination at the rate of violence in these war zones would indicate the exact opposite. For example, in Afghanistan killings have only escalated this year despite a “surge” of American troops.

The contradictions and obfuscation of the Labor and Liberal policies towards refugees is one reason the Greens capitalised at the recent election and are now urging a thorough review of the entire detention process. The mental deterioration of detainees is a major issue needing examination, a point powerfully made last week by some of the country’s leading doctors.

But what remains mostly ignored is the company that runs all of Australia’s detention centres, the British multinational Serco. In the past days, its name is mentioned in passing at best, save for statements such as this that featured in The Australian online on September 20: “Detention services provider Serco will provide a report to the police and the department on the circumstances surrounding the [Fijian] man’s death.”

But that’s it. Even when the Murdoch broadsheet sends reporter Paige Taylor to visit the remote Curtin detention centre in Western Australia, there is no mention of Serco; what it does, how it operates, how much more money the company receives now that the facility is being expanded or whether such places should be privatised in the first place. Today’s editorial in The Australian questions the adequacy of mental health services in detention but doesn’t name the company running the show.

The mainstream media barely reported the Labor government signing a contract with Serco in 2009 and today many details of the agreement remain “commercial-in-confidence”.

Earlier this week, when a detainee escaped the Darwin detention centre, the ABC news report simply stated: “Serco, the company responsible for security at the centre, is preparing a report on the escape.” No follow-up and no further questions. I am well aware of the difficulty in obtaining accurate and timely information from the corporation but this is no excuse to place entire blame for the current dysfunctional culture on the Immigration Department.

Today saw yet another roof protest at Serco’s Villawood detention centre and a very brief but welcome mention in the Australian about the company’s role in the detention centre in Cape York. However when it came to providing comment from Serco the article noted:

“Serco, the British-based private security contractor in charge of the centre, already holds the contract for security at every Australian immigration detention facility. It has refused to be interviewed.”

Crikey spoke to Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan for comment about the actions of Serco in Australia. He said contractually Serco would only speak publicly over a “fairly substantial issue” — he mentioned the recent News Ltd story over Serco bringing in front-line staff from overseas — but his department gave the bulk of comments over the firm’s actions.

I questioned why Serco is given political and media cover plus the fact that transparent access to the company’s facilities is severely restricted. Logan didn’t deny my analysis but simply repeated the contractual obligation between Serco and the Australian government.

The Australian government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to outsource these essential tasks. A leading refugee lawyer recently told me that Canberra would be incapable of now managing detention centres as years of privatisation had resulted in a massive deterioration of ability within the public service. Besides, he lamented, the government had no desire to run these places again. Note how rarely Immigration ministers or their opposite number even mention Serco.

The British press are far more persistent when it comes to Serco. There are still hundreds of children in detention in the country and Serco runs one of the most notorious centres, Yarl’s Wood. Collusion between the British government and Serco is rampant with cover-ups of abuse, hunger strikes, mental problems and violence.

I asked the detainees at Villawood whether Serco staff treated them with respect. Some said they did, while others claimed Serco employees often showed disdain for their culture. Aggression was occasionally reported. Effective mental health services, despite Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan saying they are first class, are sadly lacking because mandatory detention exacerbates trauma. I heard weeping Afghan Hazaras literally begging me to not allow Australia to send them back to certain death at the hands of the Taliban.

There is a degree of unreality at Villawood where the visiting centre for detainees is now decked out with flat-screen TVs, yellow couches, Aboriginal dot paintings and photos of trains racing through the desert.

Serco — “bringing service to life” — is the convenient firm that’s always there to manage “clients” — but providing comfortable seats simply masks the mental torture of waiting for months or years for government decisions.

7 comments ↪
  • Great piece Antony and congratulations for your advocacy on this issue. You are absolutely correct about the need for an in-depth examination and investigation of the role of Serco. It is very easy for the media and refugee activists to focus on the  appalling treatment of the asylum seekers and the Department and Government's role, and ignore Serco's role.

    It is time for a detailed systematic Australian wide project/campaign to document and publicise  Serco's operations and practice both in immigration detention and in the criminal justice system to highlight their record and to inform a campaign to hold them accountable (including demanding a full investigation).  I would be willing to be involved

    Here in WA there is particular sensitivity to the shocking record of these private corporations because of the terrible death of Mr Ward in the back of a prison van run by G4S. The WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee has tried to focus their campaign on the corporation involved G4S, who like Serco has a shocking record here and overseas . The Committee has pushed hard  to shine the spotlight on G4S, argued and lobbied for the contract to be removed from G4S and for severe penalties against G4S.

    There is also a bigger question here, specifically the link between corporations and big business and politics and the huge growth of companies like Serco and G4S who have profited immensely from the privatization of public goods and services, particularly detention and prisons, and the corrupt nexus between governments and  predatory corporations.

  • rather not say

    I believe Serco or SSDS which is another name they like to go by should go.They have caused enough headlines ,also they treat there workers badly,put them on 50 hr a week salarys and for chefs that is only $47,000 a year.So people are expected to work 50 hrs a weeks when a normal week is just 38!,also if you are on a hourly rate u dont get it unless you do over 150 hrs a mth, then u get it in your next pay.The wages there for the workers have only gone up by $2.30  in four years, and they say oh we will give you a pay rise,NO THE PAYS ARE DETERMINED BY THE FAIR PAY COMMISION not from management ,and forget about your workers rights you are expected to work until 9pm some nights if you do a function, then return at 6am to do a breakfast shift, with no extra penalty because you didnt get a 10hr break.In 2006 they made headlines again by forcing workers to sign AWAs which they got fined for .And majority of management is run by ex defence people and they think they are still in the services.

  • Ali

    Serco and SSDS are actually two separate companies with separate business interests and not to be confused that they are one and the same.  

    Companies are criticised for being 'big' and 'greedy' but they are doing jobs that the government does not have the resources to do and providing jobs in the meantime.  What is greedy about that.  If Serco goes, who will do the job?  

    Unless anyone of us is actually privvy to the details of the entire situation then all opinions are just speculation.  It is very easy to sit and judge and criticise on all sides.  The issue is complicated and diverse and much would be gained from less finger pointing and more constructive suggestions rather than ill informed opinions.

  • Victoria

    BELOW IS A SHAMEFUL LIST OF ABUSES BY SERCO: I HAVE SEEN FOR MYSELF THE AGGRESSION THEY DIRECTED AT MOTHERS IN LEONORA

    Bullying treatment & inappropriate use of violence from Serco staff to restrain a mentally ill 14yo boy, leading to his suicide and the youngest UK death in custody

    Serco refusal to address pleas of a meningitis affected detainee despite knowledge of the consequences this may have in his prior medical history, guards told him to take Panadol, inaction resulted in death

    High levels of self-harm, suicide in Serco run prisons

    UK prisoners sleeping in toilets to deal with overcrowding in Serco facilities

    Deterioration of access to health care and GPs in Serco-run Doncaster prison

    `Squalid' conditions with `institutional meanness' denying prisoners pillows

    Suicide attempt and subsequent death of asylum seeker detained at Serco-run Colbrook IRC following obsfuscation & denying help for ongoing mental illness, removing his anti-depressants initially during at risk time

    Similarities between desperate protests in Serco run centres in UK and Australia (hunger strikes, public self-harm, breakouts)

    Death in custody at Serco-run Curtin IDC due to complications from `health condition'

    Suicide from detainee at Villawood following inappropriate handling by Serco

    Serco guards unable to protect children from (alleged) abuse at Leonora

    Disturbing sexualisation of children in Serco facilities:  "One parent spontaneously complained that he had found his daughter in the [YW] center without any clothes on. His child explained that she had been encouraged to undress and play "sex games" instigated by another detained child. This father felt that there was inadequate supervision of the children within the center and after this incident he no longer allowed his children to play with the other children. Another mother spontaneously commented on the sexualized behavior of children within the center."

    Illness outbreaks affecting children in overcrowded Serco facilities

    Policies of combining violent prisoner populations with asylum seekers, resulting in an unsafe environment, at UK immigration facilities by Serco

    Use of violent force from Serco staff `high' at UK immigration facilities

    Use of separation detention/solitary confinement for long periods to manage difficult detainees (4 weeks for one woman detainee)

    Quality and quantity for meaningful education and training for detainees underdone in UK facilties (Colnbrook `insufficient' for long periods)

    Control and violent restraints used by Serco at Yarl's Wood (YW) immigration facility on children and women.  Generally aggressive and rude temperament.

    High Court challenge of March 2010 from Yarl's Wood detainee women questioning their inhumane treatment from Serco guards

    8 February 2010 peaceful protest at YW was met by attacks from Serco staff and confinement in a locked corridor without access to water, food or medication for prolonged period, forced to urinate and vomit in the area

    Serco guards beat women detainees using riot shields as 19 women were detained outside in the snow for over four hours

    Allegations of ongoing racist abuse from Serco staff in UK facilities

    Requests for medical assistance and welfare of children ignored, denied and/or substantially delayed by Serco staff at YW

    Meetings between government agencies and Serco to consider the implications for women and children's welfare of prolonged detention focused on PR and legal concerns, instead of independent accountability for health and dignity

  • Jennie Bloom

    Fantastic article Anthony.  My family & I have always been Labor voters but never again.  Australia seems to have a history of xenophobic & racist abuse.  Will it take another 100 years to belatedly say, "Sorry" again for this.  It makes me sick to know that most Australians are silently colluding with this human rights abuse because acknowledging it is a distraction from bread and circus.  Even Hitler didn't tender out his "final solution."

    Welcome to the age of the Greens.

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  • steart

    Serco were a shocking company to work for officers had to pay for clients meals and lunches out of their own pockets when they were on long escorts they were constantly told Petty cash was not available or hadn;t been cleared. you had to pay parking for their escort vehicles all the time it was adding up and was then like getting blood out of a stone to get reimbursed they were pushing staff into financial stress and actually made you feel guilty for asking for it back. not a healthy work enviroment at all.the smiling staff in their brochures is definetely not the true face of Serco