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.

My #MarchinMay speech to thousands in Sydney

Yesterday thousands of Australians marched around the country to reject the extremism of Tony Abbott’s government. I was asked to speak in Sydney to a crowd of around 10,000 people (some great photos by Jaroslaw L Gasiorek here).

This video features 15 minutes of highlights (I appear at 7.24):

A slightly expanded version of my speech has been published by The Hoopla today:

Extremism is a danger to us all and it’s rampant in the political and media class.

But let’s be clear, these problems didn’t start with last year’s election. We have been experiencing a corporate government, both Labor and Liberal, for decades. We have politicians happy to do the bidding of their corporate mates while speaking of fairness. It’s the great, unspoken lie, rarely challenged by our docile media.

There has been privatisation and outsourcing by Labor and Liberal and it’s been accelerating for decades in areas of immigration, indigenous affairs, transport, education, health, child-care and defence.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have furthered this trend because Labor assisted the groundwork, sharing the same neo-liberal agenda. These politicians mostly go to the same parties, attend the same think-tank events and romance the same reporters. It’s a cosy club that gets a warm reception in the US and Israeli embassies.

Don’t be fooled by Labor leader Bill Shorten’s fighting words; judge what his party did in government under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Growing privatisation and gifts to their corporate mates was their real agenda, masked behind class rhetoric.

Vulture capitalism is now the ideology of our age, defended and encouraged by vast swathes of the mainstream media.

During last week’s budget coverage, how often did we hear ABC journalists ask Labor politicians and critics about the “budget emergency”, mindlessly repeating Abbott government spin? There is no budget emergency .

We are told that the budget was fair for all but the Abbott government looks to the US  and UK with admiration – two societies with massive inequality and a huge underclass. Privatised education and health-care, along with private universities and hospitals are moving those countries down a path of apartheid. Access is uneven, the poor are suffering and the rich are enjoying the spoils of buying public assets at an ever-increasing rate.

Latest figures from the UK, released last week, find that the top 1% own as much as 55% of the population put together.

We are badly served by a media class that often works and plays in a bubble. They rarely go further than their offices unless on official, government visits to the US, UK or embedded with “our boys” in Afghanistan. They don’t see or hear from average citizens, and don’t want to. They talk to each other and re-publish press releases as “news” and sanctioned leaks as “exclusives”. Very few serious news stories in our press are independently discovered.

The Canberra press gallery should never be in parliament house because it guarantees subservience to an insider political message. ABC TV’s The Insiders personifies this sickness, a weekly showing of journalists happy to be close to power while providing “insights” gleaned from talking to their small coterie of friends and colleagues who are sustained by the same insularity.

Alternative voices are needed and all of you need to make yourself heard. Independent media has never been more important, fresh voices, non-white voices, multicultural voices and non-old and male voices.

I’ve spent the last years researching in Australia and globally the privatisation bonanza of public services. The rhetoric is that services will improve and efficiency will increase. The opposite is true.

In immigration detention, both Labor and Liberal have outsourced all our detention centres and services to unaccountable corporations such as G4S, Serco and Transfield. Their sole goal is profit, making money from the misery of asylum seekers.

Resistance works. Take this year’s revolt against the Biennale arts festival taking money from Transfield, a company that won a $1.2 billion contract to run Manus Island and Nauru. Artists, activists, journalists and concerned citizens convinced the Biennale that it wasn’t worth its ongoing association with Transfield. The elite response was furious, from Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Attorney General George Brandis.

Artists with an opinion who dare oppose repressive policies? That’s what great art has always been.

I stood in solidarity with this campaign. We should all examine where our money is invested, from superannuation to banks, and make sure we aren’t subsiding human rights abuses in Australia or around the world. Demand your super fund or bank tell you if they invest in Transfield or other profiteers.

Let’s build a movement of justice, equality and human rights for all. Labor and Liberal aren’t the answers; we need independent politics free from corporate interests. The Greens and others should capitalise on this public demand for clean politics and policies that will make the wealthiest Australians pay their fair share.

A political revolution is necessary, but equally a compliant media needs major change to its position as supporting the individuals, parties and corporations causing the environmental and social damage in the first place.

Reject corporate politics. Another world is possible.

*This is an edited version of a speech delivered to the March in May protest in Sydney’s Belmore Park yesterday. Tens of thousands of people gathered in cities around Australia to protest last week’s budget.

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ABCTV News24′s The Drum on Sri Lankan abuses, asylum seekers and Kevin Rudd

I appeared last Friday on ABCTV News24′s The Drum and we discussed vast human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, highlighted by the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo, and Australia under Prime Minister Tony Abbott turning a blind eye to Sri Lankan torture and abuse in the name of stopping people getting onto refugee boats.

With the privatised nature of Australia’s immigration system, I raised issues covered in my book Profits of Doom about the inevitable problems with under-staffed and under-trained employees work in remote detention centres.

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ABCTV News 24′s The Drum on asylum seekers and Indonesia

I appeared last Friday on ABCTV News 24′s The Drum (video here) talking principally about the reality of asylum seekers and why Australia’s policy towards them is based on cruelty and not compassion. In summary, I’ve long argued that Australia, as a rich nation, is making a choice to punish refugees in remote detention camps or on Pacific islands instead of taking responsibility for the relatively few people who arrive here by boat.

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Voice of Russia interview about Australian election of Tony Abbott

I was interviewed last night by The Voice of Russia about the ascension of Tony Abbott to the Prime Ministership (my previous interview with them was in July on asylum seekers):

As Australia conservative leader Tony Abbott has won the national elections by a landslide, bringing an end to a six-year Labor rule, Antony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist, in an interview with the Voice of Russia, shared his opinion on the election outcome and on what the country may expect from the new government which is to face many challenges, including tackling such issues as immigration policy and the carbon emission tax.

The Australian Election Commission confirmed on its website that the Liberal-National coalition had won 88 seats in the House of Representatives, and Labor 57. Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has admitted defeat to Tony Abbott in the Australian election. Outgoing Prime Minister said he will not stand again for Labor leadership. Rudd had called the election after defeating Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge in June. Under Rudd, Labor initially saw its figures improve, but Tony Abbott, who enjoyed the support of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, then widened the gap again.

Tony Abbott’s top priorities include cutting 4.1 billion dollars from Australia’s foreign aid program over four years, abolishing a highly unpopular carbon tax, and implementing Operation Sovereign Borders aimed at curbing the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. Abbott has also promised to scrap a controversial 30 percent profits tax imposed on major coal and iron ore mines.

The new Liberal-National Party coalition government is a strong supporter of a long-standing military alliance with the United States, and supports the rotation of US Marines through northern Australia. It also advocates closer ties with China, Australia’s top trading partner, and wants to push ahead with negotiations for a free trade deal with Beijing.

A record 1,717 candidates contested the election, including mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.

Antony Loewenstein, an Australian independent freelance journalist.

Was this result expected? What was your opinion and forecast?

It was very much expected. It’s been a Labor government in power since 2007, in the last couple of years it became very unpopular for a range of different reasons. The economy is doing remarkably well, which is quite strange because most countries have suffered the financial crisis but Australia is doing very well. So, it has been combination of factors. The asylum seekers keep coming; there is also the issue of a lot of protests by Murdoch. There was time when Murdoch had a lot of influence in Australia and the opposition – it was inevitable that they were going to win on Saturday, and here we are.

What will happen to Australia’s immigration policies? How will that change?

Unfortunately, the policy has become even crueler towards asylum seekers. For the last years, especially for the 15 years both sides of the politics in Australia found ways to harsh towards refugees, putting them in detention camps in the middle of desert, treating them very badly on the Pacific. So, unfortunately, it is already very bad. The new government is even worse. The aim is to stop people getting on boats from Indonesia to come to Australia, which may not be successful but people often forget in Australia or elsewhere that what the issue here is how we treat refugees when they come and Australia unfortunately in the last few years has chosen a path of giving harsh treatment. And I am worried that it is going to be worse not better in the coming months and years.

Can’t we say that Australia is protecting itself in that way?

That is what the government says, that Australia must protect its borders and yes, that is certainly a view that every country, including Australia must protect its borders. But the language that is used by politicians here, the true thing is, one, they regularly say that refugees are coming here illegally, which is incorrect. Any refugee has the right to come to Australia or any country and claim asylum – that’s not for the government to decide. And secondly, if you claim as the Australian government does that many asylum seekers are potentially terrorists or criminals or untrustworthy, it creates the image in the greater community that people that are coming by boat should be mistrusted and I think that is the problem where our own government figures show that a vast majority of asylum seekers that come to Australia from Iran, from Afghanistan, from Pakistan actually are legitimate refugees. So, this I think is the problem with that kind of rhetoric.

Can we say that most Australian people do support these kinds of measures?

Yes, there is no doubt that there is a sizable proportion of Australia that supports the idea of a harsher refugee policy. That is true. My view is possibly in the minority, I understand that. I would say because many people don’t know the full spectrum of refugees. The media for many years have sent a certain message that was negative towards asylum seekers, but yes, you are right, there is a great deal of support in the Australian community, as the reason many countries around the world have been treating asylum seekers very harshly and that is the challenge to try to make people look sympathetic, in my view.

What about tax changes? What changes in that sphere are you expecting?

One of the things that is quite remarkable is that besides the fact the Australian economy is doing very well, normally when the economy does well, people do not change the government. Australia is the opposite of that. So, we have the situation now when we have the new government. What the new government is talking about doing is providing far greater tax breaks for corporations to reduce regulations for those corporations and to help mining companies and energy companies to have far greater access to resources with less taxes and regulations. So, it seems that they are going to be following the path of the number of other countries and that will happen in the next 6-12 months.

What about the carbon emission tax?

We have the situation in Australia where there are 2 parts of the Parliament – the upper half and the lower half and because of the way the Parliament works quite similarly to Britain in some ways, it is unclear whether the new government will be able to put this through the Parliament. What they plan is to say that carbon tax that was put in place by the previous government should be abolished, the current government has been in power for 2 days and I think it has a very ambivalent relationship towards climate change, some members believe it exists, some do not. So, we are likely to see a loosening of regulations around energy companies and less of an issue towards pollution. I think Australia’s policy towards the carbon tax is likely to change and in some ways is following many other countries, but public support of serious actions on climate change regulations, in fact, is reducing, and it is similar to what is happening in many parts of the world at the moment as well.

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Australian Jewish heads love Zionist colonies, conservatism and remain lost cause

Australia has a federal election on 7 September. We’re looking at a change of government to Liberal leader Tony Abbott; a period of neo-conservatism awaits us. I agree with Wikileaks head Julian Assange who argues that one of the key issues is liberating ourselves from genuflecting towards Washington on every issue.

Israel/Palestine has barely featured in the campaign though the Zionist lobby is upset the ruling Labor party talks about West Bank colonies as “illegal”. They want obedience to the Likud line, that Palestinians are a) evil b) violent and c) anti-Semitic. A sign of the paranoia and ignorance of the lobby came this week when Zionist lobbyist Albert Dadon (a man with a background of embracing Israeli apartheid) banned a film critical of Israel from the Israeli Film Festival. Comical, tragic and pathetic.

Here’s a feature in Haaretz by Dan Goldberg which reflects the constipation, ignorance and racism amongst the Zionist elites. Here’s hoping younger Jews are far more enlightened:

Jewish community leaders in Australia have virtually abandoned support for the governing Labor Party, with most privately hoping the conservative Liberal Party wins the federal election next weekend.

The near consensus in favor of Tony Abbott to replace Kevin Rudd as the nation’s next PM comes as the Liberal Party reportedly plans to upgrade relations with Jerusalem, make visa applications easier for Israelis, ban more terror groups and stop financial support to any organization that supports the boycott Israel campaign.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper on Monday, an Abbott-led government would add Israel to the growing list of countries that can access fast-track visas for short-term visits to Australia.

The latest polls predict the Liberal Party will win the September 7 election by 53 percent to Labor’s 47 percent. Voting is mandatory and Orthodox Jews have started to pre-poll because all Australian elections are held on Saturdays.

If the polls are accurate, it would spell the end of a bitter battle between Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Jewish leaders, who were infuriated in January when he joined British Foreign Secretary William Hague in stating that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”

Carr, a founder of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, reignited Jewish angst last month in a speech outside Australia’s largest mosque. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said. “That is the position of Kevin Rudd, the position of the federal Labor government, and we don’t make apologies for it.”

It prompted fellow Labor lawmaker Michael Danby to take out a full-page advertisement in last week’s Australian Jewish News reminding Carr of Labor’s “carefully calibrated even-handed policy on peace.”

Danby, one of federal parliament’s most vocal advocates for Israel, added: “Foreign ministers have come and gone but Australia and our Australian Jewish community’s bond with Israel is as solid as Jerusalem stone.”

But Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, who first took Rudd to Israel a decade ago, told Haaretz: “An old tradition in Australian politics was bipartisanship when it comes to support for Israel.

“Unfortunately it is evident that it’s Labor that broke with that tradition and attempted to use Israel as a political football,” said Dadon.

Another senior leader said there is “no question” the leadership of the Jewish community favors the Liberal Party.

He claimed some Jewish leaders felt “betrayed” by the Labor Party after Julia Gillard, who he described as “an unwavering friend of Israel,” was dramatically deposed as prime minister at the end of June.

During Rudd’s first stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2010 he led a successful campaign for Australia to win a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council, but was accused of sacrificing support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.

Gillard wanted to oppose the vote to upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN last year but was thwarted by a campaign reportedly led by Carr, who preferred to abstain.

The Jewish vote in Australia is neither uniform nor influential given its relatively small size, and most Jews generally vote primarily on economic and social issues, and not based on the party’s Middle East policy.

But the Liberal Party’s strong economic credentials, coupled with its unapologetic support for Israel, are understood to have attracted increased Jewish support in the last decade.

One Jewish leader said Labor’s wavering posture on Israel would affect some Jewish voters. “I know there are a lot of Jewish people who feel strongly about it,” he said.

Abbott, a London native who once enrolled at a Catholic seminary before abandoning plans for the priesthood, has wooed Jewish voters since his first public speech soon after being elected leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009.

“I’d like to think that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us,” he told Dadon’s Leadership Forum in Melbourne.

Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told Haaretz: “It is not uncritical support that we seek; it is the support of a friend who understands that Israel is a moral entity that behaves morally and with that understanding is more likely in the first instance to assume that Israel is correct rather than incorrect.”

In an apparent swipe at Carr, he added: “We seek the support of a friend who understands the complexities of the Middle East and the fact that the obstacle to peace is not the legality of settlements but rather Palestinian intransigence and Palestinian unwillingness to accept a two-states-for-two-peoples solution.”

But some Jewish leaders fear a Liberal government could “open the door to Holocaust denial” by amending the Racial Discrimination Act. Abbott has mooted the possibility of diluting section 18c of the RDA, which makes it illegal to commit an act that could “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people … because of their race, color or national or ethnic origin.”

It was precisely this section that was cited by Federal Court judge Catherine Branson in 2002 when she ruled that Adelaide’s Dr Fredrick Toben must stop publishing Holocaust denial material on the Internet in a landmark case brought by Jewish community leaders.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, another Jewish MP alongside Danby in the Labor government, argued in an open letter to Abbott recently that his preference to limit section 18c to acts of “intimidation or harassment” is inconsistent with his support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism.

“Section 18c is precisely the kind of legislated protection against anti-Semitism and discrimination that the London Declaration calls on its signatories to enact,” Dreyfus wrote.

The best outcome for the Australian Jewish community would be a narrow victory for the Liberal Party, added one senior Jewish leader.

“That would mean Australia would revert to its historic position regarding Israel but they will not be able to ram through badly thought-out amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.”

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Welcome to the remote Curtin detention centre

The following extract from my book Profits of Doom appears in The Melbourne Review:

In this extract from his recently-released Profits of Doom, Antony Loewenstein visits the remote and jealously guarded Curtin Immigration Detention Centre. 

It’s a 30-minute drive through the desert from Derby to the Curtin Air Base. A number of signs warn us to turn back because it is ‘Private Property’. We approach the first checkpoint, where a logo on a fence with a forward arrow reads ‘Serco’. Even here in the Kimberley, Serco branding is slapped on infrastructure.

A dark-skinned man asks us for ID and the Serco entry forms that we faxed to Curtin a few days earlier – we were asked to list our professions and the names of the detainees we want to visit. I open my window and feel a rush of hot air. It is close to 40 degrees Celsius. We are allowed to proceed.

Curtin is surrounded by scrubby desert as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine a more isolated place to be detained. Demountables are scattered beside the road near the car park and high barbed-wire fences surround the detention compound. We can see new houses being constructed nearby, and a freshly laid concrete pathway leads to the main entrance. The last years have seen the construction at the centre of gymnasiums, religious rooms and classrooms.

The Serco sign hanging over the reception area reads, ‘Welcome to Curtin IDC’. Staff, including a subcontractor from MSS Security, smile as we enter the heavily air-conditioned room. They ask to see our faxed Serco forms so they can confirm they received the documents at least 24 hours before the visit. Caroline says that, uncharacteristically, a Serco manager from Curtin rang her a few days ago and said they were looking forward to welcoming us. It was an unprecedented move, without any discernible reason behind it.  ‘It’s impossible to understand how this system truly works’, Caroline routinely tells me during our time together.

Serco posters and signs advertising the company are ubiquitous in the reception area. They display the smiling faces of happy staff and multicultural imagery that includes a Muslim imam. A colour brochure emblazoned with four grinning faces from various racial backgrounds sits on a small table near some lockers.

‘Bringing service to life’ is the company’s motto. The pamphlet says that Serco ‘promotes the inherent dignity of people in detention in line with the Australian government’s new immigration detention values’.

A number of other pieces of Serco literature are scattered around reception. ‘Visitor Conditions of Entry’ states that there are three visiting periods every day, including between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but also says that arrival after 5 p.m. will not be permitted. There are dozens of rules and regulations on the sheet, including: ‘Respect the privacy and dignity of all people in the centre’. It’s a noble goal, but one that staff routinely breach, detainees later tell me.

We are given keys for a locker in which to store our personal items. I am not allowed to carry a camera or a mobile phone, but I can bring a pen and notepad. I am surprised. I have been told it’s common for journalists to be denied even these basics here. Usually a cap and bottled water suffice.

The site’s operation manager, who is decked out in the Serco uniform of shirt, shorts and black shoes, says he’ll take us to a holding area to wait for the refugees we’ve asked to see. Normally, Caroline, who has been to Curtin many times before, meets detainees under a large tree inside the compound, but we’re informed that this isn’t possible today. No reason is given.

We enter the centre and walk near the perimeter fence. We come to a large metal gate, 4 metres high, and stand there silently in the soaring heat. The gate slowly opens to reveal a narrow no-man’s-land – 150 metres of earth bookended by fences. There’s an eerie silence in the compound. It’s mid-afternoon and it’s simply too hot for anyone to be outside at this time of the day.

We walk along dusty paths for five minutes, moving through locked gates that require authorisation via walkie-talkie to open. There are a few male asylum seekers behind a nearby fence, defying the heat, but we aren’t allowed to go near them. They wave and we reciprocate.

The banality of the process is dehumanising. This is no different to a high-security prison in a remote area where escape is close to impossible. The aim is clearly to make detainees feel isolated, cut off from the millions of Australians who have no idea, or who don’t care, about what is being done in their name.

We finally enter the holding area. The Serco guard accompanying us points out the TV and DVD player in the room and says to ‘use it if you like’. A DVD case for the Jackie Chan movie Rush Hour 3 sits on a low cabinet. Tea, coffee and hot water are available, and there are fridges with ‘Staff Only’ signs. The air-conditioning is so effective I start to feel a chill. The room is anodyne, resembling a claustrophobic airport holding cell.

While a few male Serco staff sit nearby, looking bored, a number of refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan warmly welcome us. They are all men in their twenties and they include a few Hazara from Afghanistan who have recently achieved refugee status and shortly will be released into the Australian community. As Caroline and I start talking to them, I see a young Serco guard washing his hands with disinfectant – he had just shaken the hands of the detainees.

Two Tamil men, Agilan and Ajinth, both of whom speak good English, have been in detention for 19 months and 22 months, respectively. They both wear silver studs in their ears and one has a trendy haircut, with a partly shaved head. Agilan has some family in Germany, where his father lives, but a sister and his daughter remain in Colombo. Detention centre food soon comes up as an issue. Both men find the food very bland and they desperately want to be able to cook their own ingredients with spices, but it’s something they can only do covertly.

I ask Agilan and Ajinth about their treatment by Serco staff. Some are very kind, they say, while others tell them to go back to their home countries. They tell me that Serco has organized a cricket series with the Derby cricket team. Their outings include the old Derby jail, which we all think is strange because the men are already in detention. They also tell us that Serco staff learn swear words from refugees and curse each other in various languages.

We talk about the reasons they left Sri Lanka, mainly because Tamils still face widespread discrimination there, and why they can’t go back – they would face imprisonment, interrogation and possibly torture if they did. We also discuss the stultifying boredom of doing nothing day after day.

Caroline and I chat to the refugees for two hours, with Serco staff constantly looking at us. The detainees seemed to like the distraction of different company, and there was some flirty playfulness with Caroline. There are 1000 men in detention here and only a few female guards. In 2013, the federal government brought refugee children and families to Curtin into a section called ‘Alternative Place of Detention’. In a further Orwellian move in May 2013, the Federal Parliament legislated to remove the Australian mainland from its migration zone, meaning that any asylum seekers arriving on the mainland could be sent to offshore facilities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

In July 2013, the policy under the new but old Prime Minister Kevin Rudd worsened. No asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia would ever be allowed to settle there, instead being transferred directly to Papua New Guinea and indefinite detention in terrible conditions. British multinational G4S, already running Manus Island detention centre with daily reports of rape and abuse, would be licking their lips at the prospect of Australian plans to massively expand detention facilities.

When we leave the compound, the refugees come as far as they can with us, down to the locked gate, before taking a dusty road to their cabins while we backtrack to the detention centre entrance. As we walk slowly with our Serco guard, who looks about thirty, I ask about his life. He says he has a child in Perth and misses home. He’s on the six-weeks-on, three-weeks-off shift, living in Derby. ‘It’s good money’, he says, and admits that ‘this job is alright’, but he avoids sharing his views about the refugees.

We pass a small oval around which a few bearded men in tracksuit tops and shorts are running. The weather is cooler than when we arrived, but it’s still humid. On another small field alongside our path, twenty or so men play soccer. Without the high fences, guards and the desert, the scene could be taking place anywhere in suburban Australia.

As we prepare to leave, the magic sunset hour arrives and the sun drapes its last blistering light over the detention centre.

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What is vulture capitalism doing to our world?

My follow article appears today in The Conversation:

The story in last weekend’s Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was stark:

“[Prime Minister] Kevin Rudd will warn people smugglers he stands ready to create an island from hell in Papua New Guinea housing 10,000 asylum seekers.”

The message, an “exclusive” by News Corp Australia journalist Samantha Maiden, was to inform refugees that Australia would not tolerate ongoing boat arrivals and that PNG was their worst nightmare. The warning was to avoid being warehoused for years in a tent city. Whoever wins the federal election on September 7 has pledged to continue this off-shore, arguably illegal, cruelty. It’s Australian-led imperialism of the crudest kind.

Too often we ignore an examination of which companies will benefit from massively expanding facilities for asylum seekers. For the last few decades, Australia has outsourced this policy to countless unaccountable multinationals, such as Britain’s G4S and Serco, who make huge profits from asylum seekers languishing in their non-care.

In my new book, Profits of Doom, I investigate the grubby deals that have enriched corporations but left countless guards and refugees suffering mental health problems. It’s the perfect storm of neo-liberal “reform”, copied from the US and UK since the 1970s, where the role of the state is reduced and essential public services are outsourced to firms with shocking human rights records.

The immigration industrial complex is a global trend that leaves vulnerable men, women and children without properly funded attention.

As part of the book’s research, a senior Serco manager leaked internal documents revealing the massive price-gouging, under-training and under-staffing occurring across its network under a contract worth more than A$1.86 billion. This individual was scathing of the culture within the corporation, desperate to avoid being fined by Canberra for contractual breaches, and willing to tell managers to ignore problems worsened by the cheapest care possible, namely long-term isolation and rampant self-harm by asylum seekers.

Apart from visiting some of Australia’s most remote centres, such as Curtin in Western Australia and Christmas Island, the aim of the book is to uncover the global trends that were outlined in Naomi Klein’s 2007 best-seller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The Canadian writer focused on the ways in which natural and man-made disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq conflict, were the perfect vehicles for private companies to sell their wares and make massive profits.

Profits of Doom, and an upcoming documentary of the same name, expands Klein’s thesis by arguing that war, aid, resources and detention centres are now targets for rampant outsourcing. The results for locals in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea is almost universally negative. It’s a reality largely ignored by the mainstream media, with many journalists equally committed to the same economic plan outlined by the political elites. It’s a cosy club that says plenty about the insularity of the reporter’s world where physical and psychological embedding has replaced independence.

Take Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. Australian mining company Rio Tinto ran a highly profitable mine in the province until the late 1980s. Landowners and communities gained precious little from the operation. Environmental destruction was rampant – even today, 25 years after its closure, vast tracts of land remain polluted with little prospect of a proper clean-up – and local resistance was almost inevitable. A war ensued with a guerrilla force on one side and Rio Tinto and the PNG and Australian governments on the other. Mining-backed militias caused carnage and up to 20,000 locals were killed in the years-long battle.

Today there are renewed calls by Rio Tinto, Canberra and the Bougainville government to forget the past. Many PNG ministers opposed the mine years ago but, with corporate and AusAid backing, now support large-scale mining.

But without investigations into crimes allegedly committed by Rio Tinto’s proxy forces, history is destined to repeat itself. There are alternatives to mining for a poor province, such as tourism and agriculture, but Australia’s pro-mining agenda bullies poor nations to give access to Australian corporations to profit from what lies under the ground.

This is just one example where vulture capitalism is running rampant. In Afghanistan we are told that the Western war is winding down, but an army of private contractors and militias will remain long after 2014. This is simply a rebranded occupation. There are currently around 108,000 contractors in the nation, most of whom operate under a legal code that ignores abuses.

In Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the nation is suffering under a weight of NGOs, UN soldiers and US pressure to be used as a base for clothing sweatshops servicing Walmart and Kmart. Like so many nations, from Pakistan to PNG, Haiti craves true independence, including the ability to thrive with aid that doesn’t enrich for-profit corporations.

Challenging unaccountable companies, and the states, media and businesses that support them, is a key aim of my work. It’s inspiring to see individuals and groups across the world, who are fighting for justice and sovereignty. Empowering them and raising their voices, while pushing for an alternative economic model that doesn’t encourage unregulated capitalism, is the only way forward.

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Tony Abbott’s foreign policy would be as clueless as George W. Bush

My following article appears today in the Guardian:

In April 2010, as the war in Afghanistan was raging and US president Barack Obama “surged” 30,000 more troops into the country, Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott suggested that under his leadership, a Coalition government would have considered increasing involvement. “The government should explain why it’s apparently right that Nato countries should commit more troops, but not Australia”, he said.

Abbott remained silent on the catastrophic civilian toll since the 2001 invasion, evidence of US incompetence, and failed Western policy in the nation – all of which were revealed in recently deceased journalist Michael Hasting’s blistering 2012 book The Operators.

Instead, Abbott’s commitment was to Washington and a war that had helped, in his own words, to bring “universal decencies of humanity” to a “country which has been pretty short on decency for a very long time”. He was also noticeably silent on Australia’s collusion with the notorious warlord and multi-millionaire Matiullah Khan in the Oruzgan province. Independent reporting from the country, away from embedded journalism on the military’s drip-feed, reveals a damning assessment of 12 years of Western occupation leaving the Afghan people exposed to rampant corruption and rising tensions between India and Pakistan.

As Australia approaches a federal election and with the re-appointment of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader and prime minister, it’s worth considering the similarities and differences in foreign policy between the two major parties. In short, there aren’t many. Although foreign minister Bob Carrrecently told the National Press Club that Labor had bravely opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq while in opposition – “there’s no way we would have supported that war” if in power, he stated – there are few precedents for a government in Canberra resisting the overtures from America when war is in the air. I believe Labor would have been seduced by the Bush administration’s sweet whispers just the same.

The war, still costing thousands of Iraqi lives every month, is barely discussed today. Without any apparent regret about the massive loss of life, Abbott claims it “advanced everyone’s interest” – except, presumably, the innumerable Iraqis no longer alive. At least in 2008, Rudd rightly blamed a craven Liberal government for taking Australia to war in Iraq based on an intelligence “lie”.

It’s remarkable how little has been examined about Abbott’s view of the world. There’s a coterie of former advisers to prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer, some of whom are now rising Liberal politicians, who have learned nothing from the disastrous conflicts since September 11, and who still influence Abbott today.

Liberal MP and former Howard adviser Josh Frydenberg has supported the bombing of Iraq since 1998, and claimed in 2005 that a “vibrant, tolerant and democratic Iraq” was possible. The Australian columnist Chris Kenny, a former adviser to Downer, bleats about “anti-Americanism” to anybody questioning the wisdom of bombing and monitoring Muslim countries. In 2010 he was still talking about a US “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, willfully unaware of the reality for locals away from the Green Zone.

Abbott seems to retain a Bush administration style perspective – you’re either with us or against us. He told Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation last year that, “Australia’s foreign policy should be driven as much by our values as our interests”. It isn’t clear what values he cherishes when he told the Central Synagogue in 2012 that, “[Israel is] a country so much like Australia, a liberal, pluralist democracy. A beacon of freedom and hope in a part of the world which has so little freedom and hope.” He made no mention of Israel occupying millions of Palestinians under brutal military rule. He went on: “When Israel is fighting for its very life, well, as far as I’m concerned, Australians are Israelis. We are all Israelis in those circumstances”. It’s a comic book reading of the Middle East (at least foreign minister Carr, along with British foreign secretary William Hague, now rightly calls Israeli colonies “illegal”).

When I met Abbott in Sydney in 2010 and challenged him to learn more about Israel’s flouting of international law, he reverted to familiar, right-wing Zionist talking points. Both the Liberal party and Zionist lobby remain upset that in 2012, Australia didn’t reject Palestine’s statehood at the UN. Foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, Julie Bishop, haspledged to return Australia to an uncritical stance towards Israel, placing us in a very isolated position globally. (The Greens, especially senator Lee Rhiannon, condemns Israel’s destruction of aid projects in Palestine,some of which are funded by Canberra).

Abbott would probably rely less on UN scripture – there’s already talk of removing Australia from the Refugee Convention. Private contractors would continue to benefit from bloated “boomerang” projects through AusAid, and rogue nation Sri Lanka would surely be as warmly embraced as it has been during the Labor years. Indonesia’s brutish military, especially in West Papua, would probably remain unchallenged.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s virtually identical to policies under a Labor government. This bipartisanship, shared by major parties in most Western nations, inhibits independent thought. It’s beyond time for Australia to embrace a different path, one not tethered to the whims of Washington’s entrails.

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No, Kevin Rudd, boycotts against Israeli institutions aren’t anti-Semitic

Late last year Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newsletter ran a campaign against the head of Sydney University’s Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, for bravely rejecting institutional links with occupation-supporting Israeli universities.

Today former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appears in the same paper with quotes implying that boycotts are anti-Semitic and concerned people should trust the diplomatic process. This is comical. The reasons BDS against Israel is growing is precisely because years of “peace talks” have only led to further Israeli apartheid:

The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, which supports the boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaign against Australian businesses with Israeli connections, has “just got it wrong”, Kevin Rudd said yesterday.

The former prime minister used a visit to Sydney University, which is home to the centre headed by director Jake Lynch, to lash the policy he said was ineffective.

“I think people who engage in that sort of activity around businesses who are associated with the Jewish community frankly have just got it wrong,” he said.

“It doesn’t help. There is a much more important debate about how we mobilise international diplomatic action around a durable peace settlement in the Middle East.”

The centre earned widespread scorn when Mr Lynch cited the BDS campaign – usually designed to break businesses with links to Israel as a de facto show of support for Palestine – in rejecting a request for assistance from Israeli academic Dan Avnon.

Mr Avnon, a professor with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is credited with work designed to bridge the divide between the Jewish and Arab communities in the Middle East.

The University of Sydney has repeatedly distanced itself from Mr Lynch’s support of BDS and said the institution itself did not endorse the protest measure.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim has previously told The Australian the stance of Mr Lynch was a “continual embarrassment to the University of Sydney”, but Mr Rudd yesterday wouldn’t be drawn on whether the university had ridiculed itself.

“It’s a matter for the authorities within this university,” he said.

“Frankly, this is a matter of diplomacy, it’s a question of putting proposals on the table which work in bringing about a durable peace settlement as opposed to targeting campaigns against businesses which happen to be owned by members of the Jewish community.

“I think that’s just wrong. We should remember history.”

Professor Avnon still hopes to visit Australia this year if his research projects gain funding.

Higher Education Minister Chris Evans has criticised academic supporters of the BDS movement.

And Sydney University professor Suzanne Rutland, a member of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies council, has criticised the centre’s support of the BDS movement.

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Hey look at me, says Murdoch stenographer, Israeli leader makes small talk with me

You meet the Israeli Prime Minister. You can ask him anything. Do you want to mention the occupation? Of course not. Much easier, as per Greg Sheridan in the Australian, to get Netanyahu to recall those glorious days in the Australian sun. Yes, this is Murdoch “journalism”:

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has very strong feelings about Australia, as he does about many things.

On Australia, however, his feelings are wildly positive.

“I love Australia,” he tells me during a long interview in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

He appreciates Australia’s support for Israel, but he has much more personal feelings, and experiences, especially a vacation here more than a decade ago.

“I was happily unemployed and I received an invitation to go to Australia,” he says.

“It was the second visit I had to Australia. I went there first as United Nations ambassador (in the mid-1980s).

“I came there with my wife and my two boys and we had a wonderful time. I climbed Ayers Rock, again, barefoot, with my boy. He was young, 10 years old, he climbed it with me and nearly fell off the cliff.

“It was absolutely spectacular. Then we had a vacation in Hayman Island. We saw some whales and giant turtles in a nearby island. I don’t think you can beat that.

“I swam and sunbaked and didn’t do anything connected with politics for a couple of weeks. I’d say that’s pretty good. I can tell you I enjoyed it mightily. When I think of Australia, I think good thoughts.”

More seriously, I ask Netanyahu whether Australian support for Israel has been important.

Again, the response is pretty unequivocal: “Yes, very much so. It has been consistent, by and large. You can have here and there a difference. There’s also a sense of warmth and identification, which reflects the position of successive governments.

“But also there’s a sense of warmth of the people, which we don’t always enjoy elsewhere.

“In a world where Israel is vilified, castigated, where a beleaguered democracy is defending its very life against radical Islamist forces, we don’t always get credit. We don’t always get fair play. We feel that happens more often than not with Australia.”

A year ago, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, on a visit to Jerusalem invited Netanyahu to visit Australia as Prime Minister.

Would he like to do that?

“Absolutely.”

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Assange; Australian government thinks its true master sits in DC

Julian Assange tells The Power Index that Canberra needs to grow a back-bone (fat chance):

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains frustrated by the lack of assistance from the Australian federal government over his prolonged overseas legal plight, three weeks ahead of his appeal against extradition in the UK Supreme Court.

In an exclusive interview with The Power Index, the platinum-haired whistleblower revealed Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s office had been in contact with his lawyers in the past month but with “no results”.

When asked if he had been receiving adequate assistance from the federal government over his potential extradition from Britain to Sweden, Assange replied: “Of course not”.

“Almost no Australian who is involved in trouble overseas receives the assistance they should,” he said. “Australia is famous for its lack of assistance to its people who enter into difficulty overseas.”

A clearly-discouraged Assange said Prime Minister Julia Gillard, former Attorney-General Robert McClelland and other members of the ALP had “risen above their population and developed network connections with elites in other countries”.

“That is their game … and in doing so they develop a base outside their own country and are no longer political accountable to the people of their country,” he told The Power Index.

“[They] have been working their international connections, yes at my expense, but also at the expense of the Australian people.”

Assange is currently awaiting a hearing in the Supreme Court to be held early in February, where a panel of seven judges will consider his appeal against extradition on accusations of rape and sexual assault of two women.

If Assange loses the appeal he could face extradition within weeks. There is another option of appeal which could see him take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The 40-year-old Australian said the prime minister, who has denounced the actions of WikiLeaks as “illegal” in the past, had not been in contact recently.

A spokesperson for foreign minister Kevin Rudd told The Power Index that consular officers have been in touch with Assange’s lawyers and were “closely monitoring” his case.

“The Australian government cannot interfere in the judicial processes of other governments but Australia’s ambassador to Stockholm has sought and obtained assurances from Swedish authorities that Mr Assange’s case will proceed in accordance with due process,” the spokesperson said.

“Such assurances have also been sought and obtained from the relevant UK authorities.”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said he believed the government had not done enough to assist Assange, who has been under house arrest for more than a year.

“I think it would be much better for the Australian government to pull out all the stops and that means not just consular assistance, it means diplomatic activity and it means political statements,” he told The Power Index.

“We need to hear the prime minister and the attorney-general quite clearly advocating to the US that they would not support onward extradition of an Australian journalist to face trumped up charges in the United States.”

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This is how Australia handles Palestine; contempt with a smile

A Sydney-based friend wrote the following letter to members of the Labor Party in early November 2011:

Dear Member

I wake this morning to hear once more, with dismay, of the craven obeisance of the Australian Labor government to the wishes of the United States in voting against the recognition of Palestine at UNESCO.  At least a vast majority of other member nations were not so pathetic and self-interested, and voted to recognise and hopefully speed an end to one of the most heinous human rights abuses currently being perpetrated on the planet.

I spent 10 days in the West Bank earlier this year, and as one of (very) few Australians who has thus witnessed first hand the nature of the oppression and discrimination being inflicted on the Palestinian people, I find it incumbent to inform as many people as possible of the actual situation in the Occupied Territories.  Naturally this includes informing Australian voters of the disgraceful track record of the Australian Labor Party in backing every policy and opinion of the Israeli government.

The ALP is in sufficient trouble without further alienating what is a core constituency, those informed and decent people who regard human rights as pre-eminent in the conduct of its foreign policy.  Especially those ALP members currently sitting in marginal inner city electorates in Australia should be aware that such policy decisions as that enacted overnight at the UN force all thinking Australian voters to direct their attention to the only party with a principled policy position on Palestine, the Greens, whatever misgivings we may have about other aspects of their policy-making.

I have recently given a presentation to group of interested Australians about my trip to the West Bank.  I would be very happy to give a similar presentation to ALP members and anyone else who is interested in what is really happening in Israel.  It might offer some balance to the views proffered to those ALP members who are so quick to accept Israeli-government sponsored junkets to the Middle East.

Regardless, I hope some realistic understanding of the oppressive policies of the Israeli government might inform future ALP decision making, and that voters interested in human rights will be able to look to the ALP once more as a party who can be trusted to defend the rights of suffering people around the world.

With the release of Gilad Shalit (and his subsequent call for peace and reconciliation) the ALP could begin with one small step and push Israel to lift its illegal blockade of Gaza.

A few days ago The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP, Federal Member for Sydney and Federal Health Minister, responded and her comments show just how utterly compliant Canberra is with Washington on Middle East policy. We aren’t independent. We don’t think for ourselves. We parrot talking points given to us by DC. We don’t truly care for Palestinians and their freedom. And for that reason, Australia, along with America, will never bring peace to Palestine and they should both be shunned as honest peace-brokers:

Dear ****,

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding Palestinian statehood.

Australia strongly supports a negotiated two-state solution that allows a secure Israel to live side-by-side with a secure and independent future Palestinian state.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP, underlined to both sides Australia’s strong support for a negotiated two-state solution during his visits to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in December 2010 and March and April 2011, and urged parties to return to negotiations.

I have raised this issue with the Foreign Minister who assures me that Australia’s decision to vote against the Palestinian resolution reflected Australia’s strong concern that consideration of Palestinian membership in UNESCO was premature.

The matter of Palestinian membership of the United Nations (UN) had only recently been placed before the UN Security Council (UNSC). 

Australia believed we should allow the process of UNSC consideration of Palestinian membership of the UN to run its course, rather than pre-empt it by seeking to address this question in different UN forums.

The Foreign Minister assures me that if a Palestinian resolution is introduced to the UN General Assembly the Australian Government will consider it carefully before deciding how to vote.

The Australian Government strongly supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state and is providing practical support for Palestinian institution-building in support of a future state.

On 18 September 2011 in New York Mr Rudd signed with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad a five-year, $120 million development partnership with the Palestinian Authority. 

This partnership includes regular budget support delivered through the World Bank. It is part of more than $300 million in development and humanitarian assistance Australia will provide to the Palestinian people over the next five years.

This increase is expected to place Australia in the top ten donors to the Palestinian Territories next year.

Australia has also launched a scholarship program focusing on disciplines critical to institution building including law and public sector management. Under this program Australia will provide up to 50 post-graduate scholarships to public officials and legal academics. The first scholars under the program will commence study next year.

Australia is also the 10th largest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – the main provider of social services to the 4.7 million Palestinian refugees.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and letting me know your views on this important issue. Regarding federal issues in the future, it would be best for you to contact your Federal Member of Parliament, the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP and Member for Grayndler, as Kingston Rd Camperdown is outside the electorate of Sydney. 

Best wishes,

Tanya

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