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.

What Australia is doing to refugees in the middle of the steamy desert

My following investigation appeared in Crikey this week:

The drive from Broome in Western Australia to Derby, the town closest to the remote Curtin detention centre in the Kimberley, is two-and-a-half hours through endless, surprisingly green desert. Mobile phone reception soon dies after the journey begins and from there you see few people or cars for as far as the eye can see.

The roadhouse at Willare, a red, dusty stop close to Derby, has a BBQ, swimming pool and little else. There is overpriced water and food sitting in a bain-marie that looks like it has survived the apocalypse. This is where many Serco staff stay while working at the Curtin detention centre around an hour away — but there is little for them to do except drink and sleep between 12-hour shifts.

Derby has a population of around 3000 people. It is a depressing place, with temperatures close to 35 degrees and Aboriginal men and women catatonic and drunk at all hours of the day lying in parks. There is an indigenous suicide every fortnight in the town. I spent time with an Aboriginal man, living in an abandoned and dirty house on the outskirts of Derby, who told me through alcohol breath that he wasn’t aware refugees were imprisoned down the road but “I don’t like that they’re locked up”.

I recently stayed in the town for four days to visit detainees in Curtin and investigate the role of Serco and the Immigration Department in maintaining mandatory detention. Very few people visit Curtin due to its isolation so the detainees were pleased to see a friendly face and hear news from the outside world.

The federal government’s latest softening of long-term detention should alleviate some of this suffering though the relationship between DIAC and Serco will continue.

Curtin is situated inside an Australian Airforce Base, around 30 minutes drive from Derby, and can only be accessed by prior arrangement with Serco. Each day that I visited the heat reached 40 degrees and the humidity caused everybody to scurry under fans or air-conditioners. The former African refugee who manned the checkpoint into the centre — he worked for MSS, sub-contracted by Serco, and wore khaki shorts, shirt and felt khaki hat — checked our IDs, used a walkie-talkie to call his Serco superiors inside and soon waved us through.

Around 900 men are currently housed at Curtin and there are signs of the mental trauma many doctors and former detainees warned would occur if the Labor government re-opened under Serco management (as interviewees predicted to me in Crikey in May last year).

A recent report about Curtin released by Curtin University human rights academics Caroline Fleay and Linda Briskman, The Hidden Men, details countless examples of asylum seeker suffering mental trauma due to mandatory detention, contractor IHMS not providing adequate medical care and CCTV cameras recording counselling sessions, violating asylum seeker privacy.

The overwhelming sense of futility and bureaucratic ineptitude permeates Curtin. The Serco contract with the Australian government — recently revealed with colleague Paul Farrell in New Matilda  — explained the lack of training required by Serco staff. The profit motive of Serco ensures that the barest minimum of training is given to prospective workers. The company was fined nearly $15 million this month for failing to properly care for asylum seekers.

I saw evidence of this constantly during my time in Curtin. I had requested to visit, with plenty of notice, a number of detainees from a range of countries, including Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Many have received refugee status by the Australian government but are waiting indefinitely for security clearance from ASIO (a process without transparency or appeal).

One afternoon a Serco employee advised me that it would be possible to see more requested asylum seekers the next day but by morning, speaking to a different Serco staff, I was informed that it was impossible due to “security” reasons. “You should have given us more warning and it could have been arranged,” the manager said. Such stories are legendary, especially in remote centres, and often DIAC and Serco seemingly aim to refuse visitor requests to deliberately upset the isolated detainees. Such refusals, in such a remote location that sees barely any new or familiar faces, are against Serco and DIAC rules.

Curtin is a wind-swept centre with electrified fences and red dirt that seeps into your eyes, ears and shoes. Expansion plans appear imminent, with empty spaces for more compounds on the way. During the heat of the day, it’s virtually impossible to see anybody outside but by late afternoon, as the sun is setting and a cooler breeze hits the dirt, men start playing football and running around a make-shift, dirt mini-oval.

I was told throughout my visit that Serco staff were too busy to find other requested detainees in the various compounds and yet I saw Serco employees sitting around strumming a guitar and sitting in a large air-conditioned mess room, watching quietly with the asylum seekers while I spoke to them for hours daily.

Occasional excursions outside the centre take the asylum seekers to Derby but one Tamil told me that he found it grimly amusing that a proposed location was the Derby jail, hardly an appropriate place for people who are already in jail.

Most of the Serco staff are fly in, fly out — though as one local told me, “fit in or f-ck pff”, such is the feeling towards those who contribute little to the community and force prices up — and the attitude to asylum seekers is very mixed. One man, Brian, said that he had worked in Curtin during the Howard years, lived in Perth and now came to Curtin for short stints of well-paid work. As he walked me to a compound on the far side of the centre to see the asylum seekers, dubbed the “Sandpit”, he told me that: “We treat them better than many people on the outside. We feed them and give them lawyers. It’s us, the staff, who have it tough, having to sometimes be abused and assaulted by the ‘clients’.” This attitude was pervasive inside Curtin.

I spent time with two Tamil asylum seekers, both in their 20s, both proficient in English and both remarkably aware of Australian culture and history. When they arrived on Christmas Island, volunteers taught them about the White Australia policy, Ned Kelly, multiculturalism, Australia Day, the Stolen Generations and the Kevin Rudd apology to indigenous people. One had even seen and loved the Rolf De Heer film set in Arnhem Land, 10 Canoes, while still in Colombo.

Both men told me that every day somebody inside detention tried to self-harm or kill themselves and the mental state of many friends was troubling. They were given no time-line for final decisions on security clearances though in the last few days had both just received bridging visas.

Boredom was an enemy that was fought by going to the gym, downloading movies from the internet or calling home, though this was one of the major factors, one Tamil said, for men to break down because families simply couldn’t understand why their sons and husbands seeking asylum were locked up for endless months.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist currently working on a book about disaster capitalism

2 comments ↪