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.

Government rules; how the Australian immigration department treats us with contempt

Following last week’s exclusive in New Matilda publishing the British multinational Serco immigration detention contract with the Australian government, the Immigration Department was asked a range of questions. This is how they responded (thanks to Marni Cordell and Paul Farrell):

We asked DIAC for comment on their contract with Serco and how it serves the welfare of staff and detainees. Their responses are chillingly bureaucratic

On Wednesday New Matilda published the first publicly available version of the 2009 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) contract with British multinational Serco. The contract was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and reveals the most comprehensive information yet about the running of Australian detention centres.

There are a number of very worrying terms in this contract. These include the hiring of unqualified guards and the classification of unauthorised visits from the media as “critical” incidents and clinical depression as a “minor” incident. This material attracted a huge response from NM readers, and was picked up by a number of other outlets.

NM contacted DIAC for comment before publishing the contract but received no response until yesterday. Today we’re publishing DIAC’s side of the story. Here are their responses to some of our questions about the contract signed with Serco in 2009.

We asked DIAC why, under the terms of the contract, general security guards with no security qualifications can be employed at Australia’s immigration detention centres for a period of six months.

A spokesperson for the department said:

“Client support officers must hold a minimum of a Certificate level II in security or equivalent, or obtain a Certificate II in security within six months of commencement. The six months represents a maximum period that client support officers have to obtain a Certificate level II, and is not a period when no security training is undertaken. New staff are mentored by a qualified Serco officer during this time.”

The spokesperson continued:

“The department has contracted Serco to deliver service to people in detention in a range of detention facilities. Serco must ensure that all service provider personnel who carry out work under this contract are appropriately skilled, trained and qualified.”

The language is highly bureaucratic — but it doesn’t say much. We asked for more detail on what that training involves and were told that that was a question for Serco. We received a similar response to a number of our requests for clarification. However, as NM reported on Wednesday, Serco is bound by its contract with DIAC not to talk to the media.

Under the contract, Serco employees, agents and contractors must not “Make any public statement; release any information to, make any statement to, deal with any inquiry from or otherwise advise the media; [or] publish distribute or otherwise make available any information or material to third parties”.

NM also asked DIAC why was there no requirement for security specific training in the induction training section of the contract.

The spokesperson told us: “The section on induction training should be read in context with all aspects of Annexure A — induction training is under 1.1, with security under 1.5.”

Here DIAC appears to be suggesting that the rest of Annexure A contains more details about security requirements than those reported by NM. In fact the other heads in the Annexure relate to: first aid, caterers, dietitians, drivers, linguists, migration officers, gymnasium staff. On our analysis, none of these other sections have any more information about security training.

The spokesperson continued:

“The induction training course is aimed at equipping officers for their role of ensuring the safety security and well-being of all of those within the facility — including clients, staff and visitors — as well as the physical security of the facility.”

Once again, the response fails to provide any details about what is actually involved in induction training. The vagueness of the training requirements is exactly why we put the questions to DIAC, who have provided us with more vagueness in kind.

Next up we asked why clinical depression and childbirth are considered “minor” incidents under the contract, while unauthorised media access or a high profile visitor being refused access are considered “critical”.

We were told:

“A critical incident is an incident or event where there is serious injury or a threat to life, or which critically affects the security or safety of the facility. Unauthorised media presence and high profile visitor refused access fall into this category for a number of reasons, including impact on security and flow-on effects for asylum claims under the Refugee Convention.”

The spokesperson clarified this statement to tell us that the department is concerned about asylum seekers being identified by the media, as this may affect their claims for asylum.

However, given that the media are capable of respecting other reasonable requests for anonymity, we fail to see why this extra level of protection is needed for detained asylum seekers.

The spokesperson continued:

“Minor incidents are incidents or events which affect to a lesser degree the welfare of people in detention or which threaten the success of escorts, transfer or removal activities or the safety and security of the facility. Clinical depression and the birth of a child fall into this category.”

So according to the department, unauthorised media access raises duty of care issues that clinical depression, child birth and starvation do not. It’s hard not to conclude that DIAC’s priority is the protection of their public image rather than the well-being of asylum seekers.

As NM reported on Wednesday, although Serco is answerable directly to DIAC, the contract contains no requirement for periodic independent audits of Serco’s performance. We asked the department why not — and whether there had ever been an independent audit of Serco’s management of Australian detention centres.

We received no clear answer to the second part of the question, but we were told:

“DIAC ensures that Serco’s performance is rigorously monitored. We undertake an ongoing internal audit program, to ensure that Serco meets its contractual obligations.

“Immigration detention centres and alternative places of detention are assessed every month as per the Serco contract. Immigration residential housing and immigration transit accommodation are assessed quarterly.

“At the department’s option, the audit can be undertaken by a review team comprising of the following: departmental representatives, departmental facilities personnel, departmental regional or state office personnel, and/or an independent third party”.

However, all of this remains at the department’s discretion — there is no requirement for there to be third party oversight.

Once again, DIAC referred NM to Serco for more details on this. We were told that Serco had reported to the department that NGOs such as Amnesty and the Red Cross often conducted audits of detention centres. It is deeply concerning if this is a suggestion that human rights groups, acting on their own volition, are seen by DIAC as an adequate alternative to mandatory independent oversight.

DIAC’s responses to our questions are couched in the vague and sterile language of bureaucracy. Untrained security guards who are thrown into the volatile environment of a detention centre are provided with mentors — but there’s still no indication whether they’re provided with the training and support needed to cope such difficult situations. There’s no sense from DIAC that the welfare of guards and detainees is at stake here.

The response to our question about incident reporting strikes a similarly dull note. Even if concern for the fair processing of claims for asylum is the primary reason why unauthorised media visits are classified as critical incidents — and we don’t believe it is — the distrust of the media is misplaced. It’s a blow against transparency to present media outlets as so untrustworthy they can’t talk to detainees unsupervised.

NM will keep publishing on Serco and maintain our focus on Australia’s detention system. We’re concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers held in this system without due oversight and we’re concerned for the health and safety of staff. We’ll keep pushing DIAC for more transparency, too — but after their responses to our questions about the Serco contract, it’s hard to believe that we’re working for the same ends.

3 comments ↪
  • Kjell Liljegren

    Sercos reqruitment priciples are also a bit strange. I worked as a Prison Officer at Pentridge Prison for almost 18 years, after Pentridge closed I obtained work with Australian Correctional Services who where the first contractors to run the Immigration Detention Facilities, whilst with ACM I worked in all Detention Facilities around the Australia incl Christmas Island and Cocos & Keeling island, Port Hedland. Curtin, Woomera in Supervisory Positions. When ACM lost the contract with DIAC I transfered over to GSL or Group 4 as they where called at the timesa they where the new contractor to run the Detention Centres. I have very extensive training in all areas required by a Detention Officer such as Cultural Awareness, Conflict resolution, Control and Restraints and Riot control skills and Certificate 3 in Custodial Care and Certificate 3 in Security operations and 8years experience within the detention environement.
    After having applied for a position with Serco I where told that I am no suitable to work in this environment. But maybe the fact that I am Married with an ex detainee have something to do with my rejection.

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