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 the resource curse is doing to Bougainville in Papua New Guinea

My following investigation appears in Crikey today:

The rusted air vent is deafening and a whoosh echoes around the pit. Copper-polluted water sits in a pool nearby and trees are starting to take over the graded hillside. Rocky, uneven ground is where locals pan for gold, hoping to find a few grams to make some money for families living in nearby villages. Seven kilometres wide at its broadest point, the Rio Tinto-controlled Bougainville copper mine in Papua New Guinea hasn’t been in operation for nearly 25 years, yet still dominates the local landscape.

Dozens of massive trucks lie inoperable. Oil drips from their engines and runs downstream. A loud, machine-like sound is heard in the pit. The vent is sucking air directly into a pipe that takes water outside the mine itself. It is this device that allows the mine not to fill up completely with water when it rains constantly during the rainy season. It has been making this booming sound 24 hours a day for the past two decades.

The island’s brutal war from 1989 to 1997 caused the death of many thousands, maimed countless others and involved Australia arming, training and funding Port Moresby to oppose the rebellion. Former PNG leader Michael Somare accuses Rio Tinto of violently suppressing rebels opposed to the mine during the “crisis”.

Bougainvilleans may have won the war but the peace has left years of inertia, and a province desperately in need of rehabilitation.

The town closest to Panguna mine, Awara, feels stuck in time, old buildings are devoured by lush jungle, Shell and Mobil service stations decay on the side of the road. The locals are used to the poor infrastructure and housing and there are few active services for the dwindling population.

“The mine was never really closed,” says Josephine, manager of the Arawa Women’s Training Centre. “Workers and the company just fled.”

Rio Tinto refuses to properly clean up its mess. Kilometres of tailings — waste dumped by mine operators — have caused a once clear river and land to be turned into desert.

“I remember when this used to be all green back in the 1960s,” says Willy, in faded polo shirt, grey shorts and bare feet, a former leader in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army who accompanies me to the area. “We used to tell the mine owners for years that they were polluting everything but they ignored us. We had no choice but to fight for our rights over the land.”

The local community is divided over whether to try and reopen the mine as a healthy source of income before a planned independence referendum in the next years or develop adventure tourism and sustainable farming.

The owner of the mine, Bougainville Copper Limited, has a website that claims its future is bright. Peter Taylor, chairman and managing director of Bougainville Copper, told Radio Australia in 2011 that he was ready to reopen the mine but he made no comment about cleaning up the ecological disaster his company created last time. He blamed some “small but strong [local] pockets of opposition” to his firm’s re-entry.

The only person I meet who adamantly opposes any kind of mining is the man who protects a checkpoint that every Westerner has to pass to enter the mining area. I visit “Commander Alex” the day before my visit to explain the purpose of my trip and obtain permission. A $100 fee is paid, and an invoice issued, to prove I am there for the right reasons. He says he will stay at the checkpoint until compensation is fully paid to all those deserve it. He lives at the checkpoint 24 hours a day.

Willy’s fears reflect many people’s that I hear. He worries about further ecological catastrophe if Panguna re-establishes itself but is torn between dual desires; supporting a young population who are currently experiencing a baby boom while also providing adequate compensation for the former fighters and families who suffered during the “crisis” (the only word I hear used to describe the bloodshed).

Nobody has faith in politicians in either Bougainville or Port Moresby and Willy knows Canberra talks about avoiding “failed states” on its doorstep. For this reason, he worries Australia will not support independence for the province. But perhaps China will, he suggests, and exert influence as they are currently doing in East Timor, Mongolia and beyond.

A man in his early 60s who lives in a decaying weatherboard house on the outskirts of Awara, Willy told me he hasn’t seen his young grandchildren for five years because they live in an inaccessible area near town and he can’t afford to hire a truck to get there.

Individuals in Bougainville acknowledge the economic weakness of their position if they want independence. They need investment, trust and foreign capital. One of the former leaders of the Bougainville revolution, Samuel Kauona, is upbeat, however.

He tells me about his vision for the island, namely independence and sustainable mining. He talks about the 500-year history of foreign powers, including Australia, not allowing Bougainville to exercise autonomy. For him, keeping the massive mineral wealth in local hands is essential: “This is why we fought the war.”

Samuel is shortly to present to the Bougainville Autonomous Government the first mining exploration since the end of the “crisis”, a desire to examine land that he believes contains gold and silver (conservative estimates I hear claim that billions of dollars worth of gold, copper and silver remain undiscovered in the province). Only then will overseas companies be allowed to assist locals in exploiting the resources but Bougainville landowners will be the primary driver of the projects.

He explains how his insurgency beat the PNG army, its patron, the Australian government and Rio Tinto in the “crisis”. His men knew the terrain and opponents were no match for their guerilla tactics. Kauona says that the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan faced the same adversary but arrogantly believed they could win with counter-insurgency tactics.

Perhaps Samuel’s most provocative suggestion is to cut Australia’s aid budget to PNG (Canberra currently gives close to $500 million annually). “I would stop all the aid tomorrow,” he says. “It’s not making people self-sufficient.” He has little time for the influx of old men in parliament in Moresby and Bougainville. “We need young people to lead [a not too subtle dig at Michael Somare, a man for whom I find no support on the island].”

Samuel would not be pleased with a view I heard in Port Moresby from some local NGO employees who say they hope and pray Australia reclaims control over PNG and teaches them to properly manage the nation. I respond by saying I can’t think of any other example globally where the formerly colonised request the coloniser to control them again. “Things are desperate here,” one responds tartly.

These sentiments are not universal. Bougainville hotel manager Josephine, a strong figure in her ’50s with fuzzy black and blonde hair and blue-and-red dress, explains that her vision is for Western tourists to come and hike around Bougainville and a robust agricultural sector flourishing in the fertile ground. The record of Panguna mine is so bad, she says, that it is almost unimaginable for it to return.

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist currently writing a book about vulture capitalism

3 comments ↪
  • examinator

    Antony,
    PNG was an Australian protectorate sanctioned by the UN.
    BTW we got a kick in the arse from the UN in the early 60's for exploiting rather than developing.
    My memory of living there we were little better than lik lik English colonialists. with similar arrogances. The truth is where profit is concerned people can't be trusted. As a child I was uncomfortable with much of the attitudes of the white's towards the natives.
    A 15X15 foot, single room concrete brick room with a corrugated steel roof built onto the outside laundry (about half the size) was the " Boi hous" home for a native family of servants. Of course there was 30 bob a month and rations ( a case of bully beef and bag of rice) While we lived in 13 square 3 bedroom house and lived like mini raj. Many whites couldn't understand why these people weren't eternally grateful for our largess .

    I went to Bouganville and Buka in the early 60's before the (independence riots) a couple of years later (well before PNG independence). Even then then they saw themselves as not part of PNG. My recollections were of lovely islands, friendly and very dark skinned people. I have some sympathy for their claims that they were a separate people from the 'redskin' nuigins. To me it is a case of arbitrary colonial divisioning much like the Middle East after the second world war i.e. the splitting of the Kurds. But, those were the times, all that seems to have changed in PNG is the stakes and the deviousness of the techniques used.
    Capitalism is fine but gross indifferent exploitism isn't.

  • examinator

    PS
    We went to PNG in the mid 1950's After Australian Petroleum Company's Reduction in oil exploration in Kikori region in the late 1950's where he was stores comptroller at Badilli (Port Moresby) Dad became a foundation officer for the Department of corrective Institutions. He set up and helped run a prison farm at Keravat New Britain and later set up and run one at Kavieng.
    At Keravat he housed the Buka rioters in about '62/3.
    I went from a liklik monke to a liklik masta in PNG. (4- 16)

  • australiansforsyria

    Hi Antony,

    I hope the people of Bougainville and PNG can be in control of their country.

    I remember striking some of the ugly racism of semi-drunk Aussie miners on a plane from Bougainville to Moresby in 1971. The people of Bougainville must have been witness to such examples of the ugly side of human nature on a daily basis.

    I stayed in the village of Torikina on the west coast of Bougainville for about 5 weeks. It was a wonderful experience. As a naive young university student, I had a lot to learn. This was before the war, of course, and in the days when there was very much a 'colonial' approach by the expatriates. Hope that is no longer part of the fabric of life in PNG.

    The impact of colonialism on the politics, economy and society in PNG is not something I have studied. However, I believe that trust has to be always put into the people of a country. They must lead their country and determine its destiny.

    Cheers,
    Susan