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.

The burgeoning drone industry goes global

My weekly Guardian column:

In a remarkably short amount of time, drones have become a surveillance centrepiece. During the height of the recent protests in Hong Kong, drone footage captured by an unmanned vehicle showed the depth of outrage against Beijing. Reporters routinely utilise the machines for their work (there’s even a professional society of drone journalists), though critics warn there’s a danger that removing the human element when covering conflict could result in “war porn”. As such, debating the ethics around the use of drones seems vital.

But these are the comparatively simple discussions. Away from public gaze lies a huge and growing industry that now dominates the defence and surveillance arenas. It’s also becoming a central discussion inside the mining, agriculture and resource sectors. Governments, including in Australia, are desperate to doll out funds to attract some of the world’s leading drone manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Days after president Barack Obama announced air strikes against ISIS in September, share prices reached all time highs.

The explosion of drone use has led to a new industry called “unmanned aerial systems”. Measure, for example, is a company that provides a service for clients interested in renting drones for commercial use. The company’s founder, Robert Wolf, is a former economic advisor to the Obama presidency and Wall Street veteran, and he recently announced that the business opportunities in Africa are “incredible”.

I interviewed CEO of Measure Australia, Mark Stevens, who is an early architect of the “drone as a service” industry. Today, he’s working with customers in agriculture, energy, mining, infrastructure and public safety. Offering 50 varieties of non-armed drones, Measure collects data and imagery and then produces regular reports for clients. “For example, we can tell if a remote pipe needs to be checked”, Stevens says, “and right now a resource company like Fortescue Metals would send 20 men to check it out; we can save a lot of manpower.” They currently have no plans to work in the defence, military and police sectors.

With a hugely expanding commercial market, Stevens is convinced that it’s possible to run a drone business with an ethical base. “In the US we have turned down business because it didn’t fit with our values, such as providing drone support for more extreme African states. We reached out to ASIO in 2009 to tell them that we had been contacted by individuals that concerned us and we wanted to let them know. There was a group in Pakistan that asked us to provide drones over the country and we said no.” Stevens would not be drawn on the exact nature of this request.

Measure Australia imagines working with any number of industries that could benefit from surveillance. “We’re currently talking to Australian-state based rural fire services, so they could improve their vision during fire season and operate through smoke. There’s also options in mining, infrastructure and surf-life saving groups looking for sharks.”

Stevens is supportive of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) – “they’re leading the world in my opinion” – but critics accuse regulators in America and Australia of dragging their feet over necessary restrictions.

I ask Stevens if his company is monitoring environmental or animal activists – it was revealed this year that Animal Liberation uses drones to monitor poultry and stock in the Hunter Valley – and he tells me that it’s not currently happening but is possible. He’s keen to highlight the fact that their focus is on “providing an industrial solution.” North American energy companies are increasingly taking an interest in using drones to monitor green group activities.

Globally, Stevens says his American partners are talking to US companies operating in Africa, such as mining firms, cocoa processors and suppliers like Archer Daniel Midland (ADM), and agriculture corporations looking for work in monitoring crops and infrastructure. But the lack of tight regulation and rampant human rights abuses in Africa are surely issues for any drone provider. For example, ADM is currently being sued with Nestle and Cargill in a US court for allegedly aiding and abetting the trafficking of enslaved children from Mali in their cocoa supply chains.

With a burgeoning industry and militarised drone usage becoming ubiquitous in America’s “war on terror”, it’s therefore worth investigating the close co-operation between drone manufacturers and their desire to promote a softer, less-war focused side to the business.

Raytheon Australia donates to Canberra’s Questacon and a high school in Adelaide. The Victorian government partners with Lockheed Martin for development work, and RMIT University now runs a program for students to learn about this emerging technology. Corporate sponsorship of educational facilities isn’t new, and the cost dynamic between arms makers and universities has occurred for decades – but it should never happen without serious questions being asked. Too often, governments and educational facilities see dollar signs before morality.

It’s not hard to see how drones might benefit journalism, agriculture or efforts to tackle climate change. But too little is discussed in the public domain about the limits of unmanned surveillance on privacy, democracy and policing. The time for that debate is now.

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Making a fortune in US from imprisoning immigrants

My Guardian feature (plus a collection of my photographs):

Stewart immigration detention centre is situated on the outskirts of Lumpkin, Georgia, a ghost town seven days a week. Visitors and detainees arriving at the centre – capacity: 2,000, all male – are greeted by a huge painted sign on a water tank: “CCA: America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections.”

I toured the centre, with the exception of the isolation ward, when I visited Georgia in August. Five men followed me everywhere: one from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the centre operator, and the rest from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It felt like overkill. They looked nervous the entire time, worried about my questions, worried something unexpected could happen and worried that I’d see something that would embarrass them. Down a long hallway, lit brightly with neon lights and smelling of paint and detergent, lines of inmates walked past me – some smiling, some waving and some looking forlorn.

Despite the White House this year describing the surge of immigrants as an “urgent situation”, and privatised detention centres opening across America, Barack Obama continues to postpone his long-awaited immigration reforms, leaving many feeling betrayed. Since October last year, ICE has removed more than 100,000 people from the US. They are mostly Guatemalans, Hondurans and El Salvadorans who were in the US unlawfully – the three countries comprise roughly 29% of ICE removals federally. Just this year 70,000 children will arrive alone on America’s border, fleeing poverty and the US-led drug war in Central America.

The average inmate stay at Stewart is only 38 days, far less than most prisons. It’s virtually impossible for the detainees to establish any sense of permanence. It’s positive that long-term detention is largely avoided, unlike in detention centres in Britain, Greece and Australia, but inmates are often moved from one facility to another while others with deep roots in America are deported back to their country of origin without transparency. They are numbers to be processed.

Many inmates live in large, barred pods, with a maximum occupancy of 62. Others live in smaller rooms or the segregation unit. I spotted a few female CCA staff inside the pods with the male inmates. A sign next to one of the rooms read, “Upon Entering Detainee Pod All CCA Female Staff Will Announce Female in POD.”

Another pod had its lights dimmed because the inmates started working in the kitchen at 5am and were resting. CCA pays US$4 per day for inmates to perform kitchen duties, and less for other jobs (barbers receive $2, for example). ICE was proud to tell me that the law only mandates the state paying $1 per day, so CCA is doing a fine job.

Men in a different, brightly lit pod were laying on their bunk beds under blankets and sheets. A microwave, cable TV, sink, Playstation and Wii were inside. One man was wearing headphones to listen to the TV in front of him. Basins and toilets were behind a curtain. Metal tables and seats were fixed to the floor. “I’m not saying it’s like the Hilton here”, an ICE manager said. Signs in English and Spanish read, “Keep Detention Safe: ICE has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and assault”.

A notice listed a phone number for inmates to call if they needed assistance. Telephones are available for inmates to call lawyers, embassies and friends, but the cost is exorbitant because of price gouging from companies making a fortune selling phone cards to inmates. It’s a hugely profitable business, just one of many markets to be exploited inside America’s incarceration system.

The library was stocked with countless Bibles and romance novels. Detainees played soccer and basketball, both inside and outside under the bright, blue sky. They have two hours daily to enjoy the outdoors. In the medical centre I saw an inmate in an orange jumpsuit and orange Crocs shoes hooked up to a drip. The medical offer refused to tell me about his condition. I wondered if it’s sickness or something worse; a few months before my arrival detainees went on hunger strike after complaints about rotten food. As soon as I see him we’re moved on.

I then passed a guard staring into a darkened cell. He was looking through a small window at an inmate sitting, looking straight ahead, with eyes wide open. He wasn’t handcuffed, but sat perfectly still in a flame retardant suicide smock, like a straitjacket. What exactly could he use to light himself when locked in a cell on his own, with the guard watching him like a hawk? The medical officer said that suicide watch wasn’t always necessary, but with the high rate of removals from Stewart a detainee’s state of mind was often fragile.

Another door led to the centre’s own court, where claims by immigrants who wish to remain in the country were assessed. The courts are under the executive, not the judicial branch of government, and serious questions exist over their lack of accountability. Many decisions aren’t even written down, hearings are secretive and access to lawyers is difficult. Almost every immigrant brought before the court is issued a deportation order.

Unlike America’s prison population, where drug and alcohol use and abuse are common, ICE told me that these problems don’t exist at Stewart. Throughout the visit I never saw any abuse, violence or racism. It was the ideal tour. My hosts were friendly and attentive, and dismissed the numerous inmate claims. One detainee I spoke to told me of racist taunting and abuse by guards, and boredom. He had heard about maggots in the food from a fellow detainee but hadn’t seen it himself. His own story was troubling, a migrant from Guyana in the 1970s facing deportation to a nation he hadn’t seen in 40 years.

Although both CCA and ICE claim the facility isn’t run like a private prison, in reality it operates like one. But according to Silky Shah, co-director of Detention Watch Network, CCA and other operating companies have only so much power. “They don’t have complete control,” she says. “Decisions are being made by politicians.” She is campaigning against a Congress-mandated quota that dictates 34,000 immigrants must be imprisoned in ICE centres nightly; CCA is effective at lobbying to ensure ongoing contracts.

A report released recently by some of America’s leading advocacy organisations found that ICE arrests in Georgia increased by “at least 953%” between the 2007 and 2013 financial years. Georgia’s rate of imprisoning immigrants was directly related to the colour of their skin: over that same period of time, only 1.6% of those detained by ICE were of “fair or light complexion”.

Huge numbers of families have also been separated, including individuals who had been living in Georgia since at least 2003. On the day I arrived at Stewart, 1,766 detainees were behind bars, the vast majority from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala, with 60 other countries represented.

Shah’s organisation believes that “private interests should not be involved” in the detention business. But privatised incarceration is only one profitable area of commerce. She worries that companies selling ankle monitoring and surveillance will benefit if Obama even moderately reduces the number of people in detention.

“We believe in abolishing all detention centres in US”, Shah says. “At the moment, the burden is on the detainee to prove why they should stay but the burden should be on the government to justify expulsion. They should assess if the immigrant has community support.”

Out in Lumpkin, the streets were deserted. The shops on Main Street were mostly empty, paint fraying on the window panes. A taxidermy outlet was one of the few open businesses. The town, in one of America’s poorest counties, is all but unknown to most Americans. Its population barely breaks 1,000.

I met a man in his 20s, either high or drunk, who was hanging out at a petrol station with his friends. He had a tattoo on his bare chest: “Me Against The World.” He told me he’s been living in Miami. “It’s so much better there,” he said. He was only there for a short visit.

The town’s dwindling youth population are leaving for greener pastures in bigger cities nearby. CCA started building Stewart in 2004, and sold the idea to ICE and the local community years later as both an economic benefit for local residents and a deterrent in a state traditionally hostile to immigrants.

Although the company’s 2014 financial results were strong, the benefits never arrived in Lumpkin. Many staff members don’t live in the town, but commute from more viable cities. Lumpkin reminds me of crumbling towns next to other detention facilities I’ve seen in Australia, Britain and Greece. The same failed promises from the same centre companies and state authorities were made in those nations too. The economic promise of a local detention centre is usually a lie.

Even in the detention centre itself CCA’s own employees struggle financially. I met one guard who was selling potato crisps, bottled water and chocolates to raise money from staff to support struggling CCA employees around the country. Although it’s admirable that people want to help, it’s revealing that the company doesn’t raise wages, but instead facilitates the sale of junk food.

In tough circumstances this kind of charity is often all people have. In Lumpkin, a small, Christian-run volunteer group, El Refugio, supports the visitors and families of detainees coming to the town. They operate a house over weekends very close to Stewart detention centre and offer free meals, accommodation, clothes and shoes – and comfort.

When I pay a visit one Saturday, a few days before my official tour inside Stewart, people from Atlanta and Columbus are providing a compassionate ear to an inmate. The conversation goes on for around an hour, with some hearing horrific stories. One man, Greg, tells me that “many Americans think anyone who enters America ‘illegally’ should be deported but we want to show a different side of people.” One of the group’s founders, Katie Beno Valencia, says El Refugio remains committed to shutting down any facility that makes money from misery.

This kind of humanity is sorely missing from America’s immigration debate, defined by toxic rhetoric from many Republicans and timidity from Democrats. Adelina Nicholls, executive director of Georgia Latino Alliance For Human Rights, doesn’t believe America wants to solve its immigration issues. “US people often care more about hunger in Ethiopia then poor Guatemalans here”, she told me at her office on the outskirts of Atlanta.

As a key representative of the large Latino community in Georgia, Nicholls sees the effect immigration detention has on individuals and families. “Stewart detention centre hurts us deeply and many detainees inside have been in the US for years,” she says. “They ask, ‘Why are gringos doing this to us?’ These workers have been employed for years in farms and restaurants and anger is growing. We are trying to mobilise resistance and civil disobedience.”

Her organisation receives at least 600 calls a month on its hotline, mostly Latinos asking for help. “It’s hard getting effective pro-bono lawyers here”, she tells me. “There are overly high bails for our clients … it’s a racist mindset [in Georgia]. It’s white supremacy with its concerns over brown people. It’s more profitable to behave this way.”

I saw just how profitable the industry can be when I visited the American Correctional Association conference in Salt Lake City in August. The five-day event brings America’s prison industry, wardens, county officials and lobbyists under one roof. As America shifts slowly but noticeably away from mass incarceration towards privatised probation, half-way houses and surveillance, new markets emerge. CCA’s CEO, Damon Hininger, has noted that his company is “well-positioned for growth opportunities”.

At Salt Lake City everything is on show: surveillance devices, Swat team uniforms, weapons, plastic e-cigarettes for inmates, drug-testing kits and prisoner-made furniture. Green prison designers and service contractors offer their services to public officials eager to spend tax dollars.

These are people who look at America’s prison and immigration system and see dollar signs. One night at an outdoor rooftop party I spoke to a man who works at GTL, a provider of communication and technology to prisons. The company’s website describes itself as a “corrections innovation leader”. He said he loves his job because he embraces new technology and revels in the chance to promote it.

“This industry hasn’t changed for over 100 years because of men who didn’t see any need to do so”, he said. “But new technology is forcing these shifts and my generation is at the forefront of it.”

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John Oliver on the American prison industrial complex

A witty and moving look at the privatised US prison system:

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Talking about nation and identity in Greece

I’m currently in Greece working on a new book, out in 2015 with Verso Books on disaster capitalism (more details soon), and excited to announce this public event on 24th June with my friend and colleague (and bloody fine and successful writer), Christos Tsiolkas. It’s organised by the art/intellectual collective, the Athens-based Libby Saucer Foundation:

The group Libby Sacer Foundation continues its series of events under the title “Passport please” at the cheapart art space (An. Metaxa 25, Exarheia). The next two events of the series focus on Ghosts. Entrance is free.

Talk – discussion: The Ghost of Nation” - 24th June, 8pm

Two Australian natives, radical Greek-Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas and anti-Zionist Jewish journalist Antony Loewenstein discuss the notion of nation. As the children and grandchildren of immigrants, white inhabitants of a black continent and people functioning beyond normality on multiple levels, the two will trace their relationship with what we call nation. 

The guests will discuss in English and there will be a Greek interpreter.

Brief biographies:

Christos Tsiolkas was born in Melbourne in 1965. Born to a working-class family of Greek migrants, he is left-wing and openly gay. He has been called “one of the greatest contemporary writers in Australia” and has received many awards. His first novel, Loaded (1995), was filmed as Head On (1998) by director Ana Kokkinos. In 2006, his novel Dead Europe won The Age Book of the Year fiction award and was adapted into a film in 2012. In 2009, his fourth novel, The Slap, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009 for best novel in the South-East Asia and South Pacific area, and in 2010 he was shortlisted for the Booker prize. Tsiolkas has also written The Jesus Man, The Devil’s Playground and most recently Barracuda. Christos Tsiolkas is also a playwright, essayist and screenwriter. 

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based journalist, author and filmmaker. He’s a weekly columnist for the Guardian, has written best-selling books including My Israel Question, The Blogging Revolution and Profits of Doom: How vulture capitalism is swallowing the world. Loewenstein also edited Left Turn and After Zionism and is currently making a documentary and a new book about vulture capitalism. 

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ABCTV News24’s The Drum on asylum seekers and politics

I was on ABCTV News24’s The Drum on Monday night discussing the latest report on asylum seeker chaos caused by Australia and other political issues:

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FBI Radio interview feature on privatised immigration detention

The issue of privatised immigration detention in Australia and globally is one subject of my book Profits of Doom.

Sydney’s FBI Radio Backchat program produced a strong feature on the issue last weekend and interviewed me about it:

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ABCTV Big Ideas on Profits of Doom and vulture capitalism

The following was broadcast today on ABCTV1:

Can vulture capitalism be stopped?

That’s the question put up by Antony Loewenstein in his last book ‘Profits of Doom: How vulture capitalism is swallowing the world’.

He’s a writer, photographer, blogger, doco-maker and always a provocateur. He’s in conversation here with Chip Rolley, editor of the ABC’s The Drum.

The focus of this exchange is the implications of privatising prisons, detention centres, aid and security in this country and on a global scale.

To put this conversation in context, it took place at the Perth Writers Festival right after the riot on Manus Island and the death of refugee inmate Reza Barati.

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Why it’s time for UN sanctions against Australia

My weekly Guardian column is published today:

This month, the United Nations accused Canberra of potentially breaking international law by forcibly repelling refugee boats back to Indonesia. Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, said that the international body was “concerned by any policy or practice that involved pushing asylum-seeker boats back at sea without a proper consideration of individual needs for protection.” He continued: “any such approach would raise significant issues and potentially place Australia in breach of its obligations under the 1951 refugee convention and other international law obligations.”

The comments were brushed aside as soon as they were uttered. Prime minister Tony Abbott’s administration insists that its policies are legal and safe, and the vast bulk of Australians apparently back even harsher methods against asylum seekers. It is now clear who has won this battle, and it isn’t the forces pushing for moderation.

After 20 years of steadily increasing cruelty towards refugees, it’s time to admit that we’ve reached a stalemate. Simply arguing for a more humane approach has failed. Reason, international law and common sense are no match against inflammatory media reporting, false fears about asylum seekers living in the community, and politicians proudly punishing the most vulnerable in the name of “deterrence.”

Enter the need for a new approach, one that seriously ups the ante: sanctions against the Australian state for ignoring humanitarian law. Australia deserves nothing less. A price must be paid, in a political and economic sense, for flagrantly breaching Australian and international conventions. This could be directed at both the multinationals such as Serco and G4S, who are administering the government’s policies, and the bank accounts and assets maintained by government ministers and officials.

Australian citizens must feel this global isolation in their daily lives, and be made to realise that business as usual is a choice that will bring tough penalties. Locking up children on remote Pacific islands, without proper medical or psychological care, is designed for only one purpose: pain. States opposed to these breaches must gather together and take action, regardless of the inevitable short-term bleating from the Australian government. Activists around the world and at home must have a clear target and goal: to make Canberra believe that the ramifications are simply too high to maintain the current system of a privatised detention network.

Western state powers believe they are immune from prosecution. The idea of a senior western leader or official being charged for war crimes or abuses of power is almost unheard of. The recent news that British human rights lawyers are pushing for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute local military figures and politicians over serial breaches against detainees in Iraq after 2003 was an important reminder that it isn’t only presidents in dictatorships that might face the wrath of The Hague. We are surely not far away from a precedent being set with the sight of a London or Washington-based official found guilty for covering up systematic assaults against Iraqis or Afghans during the last decade.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, explains how the US system is designed to protect the powerful at the expense of the majority. There are countless officials after 9/11 who haven’t been jailed for ordering and performing waterboarding, sexual assaults, illegal interrogations, hiding prisoners in black sites and invading nations. President Barack Obama has ferociously protected the worst abusers, including CIA torturers, and provided immunity.

The relevance to Australia is clear. Western leaders live under the belief that they can behave as they like to the powerless and invisible. Asylum seekers are essentially voiceless, reporters are barred from visiting where they’re warehoused in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and the daily drumbeat of dishonest rhetoric wrongly accuses them of being “illegal”.

Even the threat of sanctions against Australia would enrage the Abbott government and its backers. Australia is a democracy, they will claim. Australia’s decisions are checked and approved by lawyers, they may argue. Australians can vote out recalcitrant regimes, they could state.

And yet transparency over asylum seeker policy has arguably never been more absent. There are far too few journalists dedicated to investigating the refugee issue, media organisations prefer sending their “journalists” to junkets in Los Angeles promoting Australian celebrities, and the result is an immigration bureaucracy that rightly believes its actions have few consequences, shielded from censure.

Sanctions against Australia would wake them up immediately – even though the usefulness of traditional sanctions are questionable. Imagine if immigration minister Scott Morrison feared leaving the country amidst threats of questioning if he landed at Heathrow airport because of the abuse of asylum seekers in his care.

The first, obvious step is rousing worldwide support to place serious pressure on Australia and make its officials and leaders uncomfortable. Ask them tough questions in global forums. Demand they explain why dumping vulnerable men, women and children in isolated prison camps doesn’t warrant sanctions. Tell them that the humane treatment of asylum seekers, at a time when the globe is struggling to cope with millions of displaced Syrians and growing numbers of climate refugees, is vital in a connected world.

The Australian government feels invincible, protected under America’s security blanket and selling its dirty coal to the world. We are sold the myth that building remote detention camps will protect us from the “hordes” trying to enter our promised land. It’s impossible not to conclude that Australia, a colonial construction, doesn’t see itself akin to Canada, the US and Israel as countries struggling to cope with people various officials call “infiltrators”. That bubble must be burst, and the threats of sanctions will be the required shot. Until Australia and its defenders appreciate the necessity to treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect, they should feel the world’s opprobrium.

Talk is no longer enough. The UN has had more than 20 years to convince Australia to abandon mandatory detention and its associated ills. Frankly, it hasn’t tried hard enough. Absent of a complete overhaul of the UN system, something that is long overdue, let legitimate legal sanctions be threatened and used.

It’s a price every Australian, myself included, should feel.

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SBS News interview on Serco and G4S behaving badly in Australia and Britain

A section of my recent book Profits of Doom examines the pernicious role of British multinationals Serco and G4S. Both companies are currently being investigated for fraud in the UK and SBS TV and Radio interviewed me about both the local and global ramifications of the scandal:

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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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Launching Profits of Doom at Curtin University in Perth

I launched my book Profits of Doom at Curtin University in Perth on 29 November to a packed house (more details and photos here and audio is here). The focus was on Australia’s privatised immigration detention system.

Dr Caroline Fleay from The Centre for Human Rights Education (CHRE) introduced me with a generous speech that I re-publish below:

Profits of Doom – Perth Book Launch

Centre for Human Rights Education

29 October 2013

Caroline Fleay

Curtin University

Book Launch Introductions

It is my pleasure to introduce Antony Loewenstein.

Antony is an independent journalist, blogger, photographer and documentary film-maker. He has written and co-authored a number of best-selling books, including My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He has written for The Nation, Huffington Post, The Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, and is now a weekly columnist for The Guardian. He has also appeared on a range of television current affairs programs on the ABC, the BBC, Al Jazeera English, and a range of other media outlets. And, of course, he is the author of Profits of Doom.

I first met Antony at the Perth Domestic Airport, very early in the morning, in November 2011. Antony had been persistently emailing during the second half of 2011 as he knew through some mutual acquaintances that Linda Briskman and I were visiting the Curtin immigration detention centre, and he wanted to come along for the purposes of his research.

So up we flew to Broome and then hired a car for the 2 hour drive to the detention centre which is about 50 km from Derby. I spent many long hours with Antony during the following four days and I learned a few things about him as a journalist and as a person. One thing that I did observe was his skill in finding out information from those who work within the detention system. But the thing that impressed me most about him was his empathy that was clearly evident as we sat and talked with the few people detained in that large centre that we were allowed to meet with. Antony’s response to what he witnessed, and to what he was told by the people we visited about being in detention for many months, I think speaks volumes about his understanding of the issue.

And this is reflected in the book we are very happy to be launching in Perth tonight.

Antony’s book, Profits of Doom, provides a much needed spotlight on the operations of some of the private corporations that make large profits in industries that emerge from government outsourcing. And they do so in an environment where the details of much of their operations

One of these corporations, Serco, is a big player in Australia and two of the chapters in the book explore their role in the immigration detention industry. One of the big problems of privatisation in immigration detention is that it deepens the system’s lack of transparency.

The involvement of private corporations in this area not only enables governments to expand immigration detention, it also helps to obscure what is going on within detention centres.Commercial-in-confidence clauses that apply to contracts between the government and private operators mean that it is exceedingly difficult to access information in relation to costs and other operational matters, as Antony highlights in his book.

Accountability issues around who is responsible for what happens within immigration detention centres become more opaque under a system of privatisation. For example, in the midst of a rooftop protest and following the death of someone detained at the Villawood immigration detention centre in 2010, Serco told media reporters to contact the Department of Immigration for comment. In turn, the Department said they could not comment in any detail on Serco’s operations.

Profits of Doom helps to lift a lid on the secrecy of Serco and its operations within Australia’s detention network. For one thing, the book highlights the hefty profit rates that Serco is making out of its immigration detention contract.

But Antony’s writing also allows us to get some understanding of the remote sites of detention at the Curtin airbase in the north of WA, and on Christmas Island. His writing helps us to get a sense of the people detained within those electrified fences, and those responsible for enabling this government policy. He highlights how this privatised system of imprisonment harms the people it detains. And he highlights how it harms some of the staff who become traumatised by what they witness, and what they have become complicit in.

As Antony expresses it: “desert prison camps are not normal”. Indeed, imprisoning people for indefinite periods of time in any site of detention is not normal.

Antony’s book is a compelling read and I highly recommend it.

Please welcome Antony to talk more about his book and these issues.

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What next for the left? Public forum with Loewenstein and Greens’ Scott Ludlam

I was in Perth, Western Australia last week for a Profits of Doom book tour.

There was a large public event at Perth’s state library. I spoke alongside Greens Senator Scott Ludlam about my book, left politics, the Greens and how to effect positive change (I was interviewed on Perth Indymedia radio on similar issues).

Here’s the video from the fascinating evening:

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