Australia, like so many other Western countries, increasingly believes it should outsource government services to private companies under the guise of “efficiency”. It’s nothing of the sort and merely removes a key level of accountability. In my forthcoming book on disaster capitalism I examine the ways in which multinationals are making a fortune from asylum seekers housed in high-security detention centres.
Today’s Australian offers new details of the permanent facility on Nauru, allowing some companies to make a nice little profit. All in the name of “national security”, of course:
Australia is building imposing double-storey dormitories to hold detained asylum-seekers on Nauru, setting in concrete Labor’s version of the Pacific Solution.
The Weekend Australian has gained exclusive insight into what life will be like in the permanent camp at Topside, on the equatorial island’s baking central plateau, as the initial group of 88 detainees prepares to move out of tents and into the new blocks.
Unlike the flimsy weatherboard huts used in the first iteration of the Pacific Solution under the Howard government, the new buildings are built to last.
Australian and local workmen were swarming over them yesterday to complete the finishing touches in time for a planned handover next week.
The initial stage of the project is a twin-storey accommodation centre of about 1000sq m, containing 44 rooms grouped in three pods, connected by covered breezeways.
For now, asylum-seekers will sleep two to a room of 4m x 3.5m. The centre is the first of 10 planned accommodation blocks in a camp that will cost more than $70 million to build and hold up to 1500 detainees.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said detainees can expect to spend as much as five years on the island under the government’s “no-advantage” rule, to ensure that asylum-seekers who take to boats do not receive a short cut compared with those who go through proper channels.
Rain was falling yesterday — as it has been for weeks on Nauru, in the grip of its wet season — and the 415 male detainees from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran were getting by under canvas.
Separate buildings for kitchen, canteen and administration staff are also to be built, with the project to be completed by year’s end.
While a vast improvement on existing conditions, where people sleep up to 12 to a tent and shower in the converted Howard-era huts, the permanent camp at Topside will lack amenities taken for granted by the inmates of most Australian jails.
There is no airconditioning to keep at bay the 30C-plus heat and heavy humidity, a comfort detainees had in Mark 1 of the Pacific Solution.
Each room will have a single wall-mounted fan. The windows are grilled, but otherwise open to trap seabreezes. Eaves are designed to keep out the rain.
“It’s a bit like the old Northern Territory-style home where you get the air to flow through the whole building,” said Rory Murphy, boss of Brisbane-based civil engineers contractor Canstruct, which secured a three-stage tender for the $70m contract.
“The building is orientated to be as cool as possible naturally.”
The rooms will not have cooking facilities or a sink, let alone the ensuite that is virtually standard in modern Australian prison cells.
Completion of stage one opens the way for detainees to be given greater freedom. They are already allowed to leave the camp on escorted excursions and to compete in soccer and athletics against local teams. But a spokesman for the Nauruan government said the intention was for the camp to be open during the day, allowing detainees to come and go freely before an evening curfew.
Currently, it is guarded by contract staff from Wilsons Security, under the $24.5m deal with the Transfield group to run the camp.
Other contracts totalling $2.07m have been let by the Immigration Department for staff accommodation and meeting facilities at the local Menen Hotel and for telecommunications. An Immigration spokesman said the camp had been generally trouble-free since tensions last November and December sparked a hunger strike and reports of fights among the asylum-seekers.