By all accounts, Serco probably was the least worst choice; what we are dealing with here is the political equivalent of Steven Bradbury’s win in the 2002 Winter Olympics. It’s not so much that Serco won the contract, it’s that there were no other viable contenders. This connects to the de facto situation in Canberra surrounding tender processes like this one. In practice, the leading contenders are those corporations large and wealthy enough to afford highly skilled, well-connected lobbyists capable of gaining access to and maintaining good relationships with their key counterparts in the government.
This is effectively Serco’s business model with governments around the world: aggressive lobbying, savvy corporate communications, underbidding, cost-cutting, sub-sub-sub-sub contracting, and a willingness to provide ‘support services’ for all those things governments cannot or will no longer do. Its workers – often inadequately trained and prepared for their tasks, as a recent 7.30 report detailed – do the dirty, dangerous, difficult, repetitive, boring, traumatic work of dealing with things and caring for people that we would rather not think about.
Serco’s yellow-vest-wearing grunts are the frontline workers of the latest wave if the privatisation boom.