Clare Sambrook reminds us of a tragic story in Australia that should provide a salutary warning to governments desperate for privatised “efficiency”:
Last week in Western Australia, Graham Powell and Nina Stokoe, two former private security guards, pleaded not guilty to charges relating to the death of renowned Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, cooked to death while being transported more than 220 miles across searing Goldfields in a badly maintained van with faulty air conditioning in January 2008.
Powell and Stokoe’s employer, then called GSL, is part of G4S, the outsourcing monster with a £7.4 billion annual turnover, which dominates the world security market. The UK is the company’s home and a £1.2 billion chunk of business: G4S manages PFI deals, transports half a million prisoners a year, runs prisons and immigration detention centres (including, opening soon, the government’s new ‘I can’t believe it’s not child detention’ facility at Pease Pottage near Gatwick). To G4S, our welfare state is a £159 billion opportunity-in-waiting, the dismantling of the NHS another exciting prospect for growth and enrichment.
G4S, which may yet face corporate manslaughter charges here in the UK over last year’s death of Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga after “restraint” by G4S operatives, has repeatedly tried to pin the blame for Mr Ward’s death on Powell and Stokoe alone. After the Western Australia State Coroner found in June 2009 that the State, the company and the workers had all contributed to Mr Ward’s death, Tim Hall, G4S’s mouthpiece in Australia, insisted on national television that the company’s procedures “were not totally inadequate. Why this incident happened was because two officers disobeyed an instruction they were given to stop every two hours.”
But that isn’t anything like the whole story. Indeed the case of Mr Ward provides a shocking glimpse behind the corporate spin, exposing shakiness in the logic that has propelled the global boom in privatisation of core public services.