The following global exclusive, written with Paul Farrell and Marni Cordell, appears today in Australian magazine New Matilda:
Today NM publishes the contract signed between the Department of Immigration and Serco, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act
New Matilda has gained exclusive access to the first publicly available version of the 2009 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) contract with British multinational Serco.
The contract was obtained through a Freedom of Information request and reveals the most comprehensive information yet about the running of Australian detention centres.
New Matilda’s analysis of the document reveals that:
- General security guards can begin work with no formal security qualifications and are only required to obtain a Certificate II within six months of working with Serco.
- Clinical depression, childbirth and voluntary starvation for under 24 hours are considered “minor” incidents while unauthorised media access is considered “critical”.
- Of these “minor” incidents, only 10 per cent are required to be audited internally by Serco.
- There is no contractual requirement of an independent audit of Serco’s management of detention centres.
The first 80 pages of the contract can be downloaded here. Links to the remaining sections can be found at the end of this article.
Other issues of note include:
- Serco is obliged to provide phone services to people in detention but the contract specifies that mobile phone handsets “[must] not have a recording facility (either audio or visual)”.
- Serco must also “control and limit” detainees’ internet access to pornography, FTP sites, and “prohibited sites in foreign languages”. It is not specified which sites are prohibited and under what law.
- If a member of the public complains or provides feedback about an immigration detention centre, Serco must notify the department within one day and provide a written response to the person within two weeks, “setting out the action taken of the reason why no action will be taken”.
- Serco is obliged to provide “tea, coffee, water and biscuits” when detainees have visitors and visiting areas must contain “hot/cold drinks and confectionery vending machines”.
- Serco must “not provide access to the Facility for media visits unless the visit has been approved by the Department” and must “ensure that media personnel only conduct activities approved by the Department”.
- Serco indemnifies DIAC from and against any loss arising from or as a consequence of any “death, or bodily injury, disease or illness (including mental illness) of any person including People in Detention” — this clause survives for a period of seven years following the expiration of the contract.
According to a letter from DIAC’s FOI officer, Serco objects to DIAC’s decision to release some parts of this contract and has exercised its rights under FOI law to block access to those sections in the document marked “s27 consultation”.
However, New Matilda has also obtained a leaked copy of the contract in which some of these blocked sections are visible.
This version of the contract has not been officially released, and reveals:
- The internal and external perimeter of the detention centres are only required to be checked by security guards twice a day; at the opening of the centre and before it’s locked up.
- Checks to ensure detainees are “present and safe” are only required to be conducted four times a day.
- A carrot and stick system of “abatements” and “incentives” where Serco is fined for poor performance and rewarded with higher fees for good performance
The fact that this contract has only been released now, more than two years after it was signed, reflects how closely guarded the agreement between Serco and the Federal Government remains.
Last week, Serco’s Australian CEO Bob McGuiness told Perth Now that he was “gobsmacked” to hear Serco described as a “secretive organisation” in the media. “I find that astonishing,” he said.
In fact, the contract prohibits Serco employees from speaking to the media at all. It reads:
“The Service Provider must not, and will ensure that its officers, employees, directors, contractors and agents do not:
Make any public statement;
Release any information to, make any statement to, deal with any inquiry from or otherwise advise the media;
Publish distribute or otherwise make available any information or material to third parties.”
The hypocrisy of McGuiness’s comments is also remarkable in light of Serco’s attempts to block access to information that the DIAC FOI decision maker has argued should be public.
The Labor government and DIAC agreed to the terms of this contract. By privatising immigration detention centres, successive Australian governments have kept these issues out of sight and out of mind, under the pretence of information being “commercial-in-confidence”. Bureaucratic buck-passing ensures little firm information is ever released.
Many parts of the contract have still not been released on the decision of DIAC’s FOI officer — including the names of the Serco directors who manage relations with DIAC and run detention centres.
Links to Serco contract (FOI version)