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.
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
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.
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:
Australia’s official attitude towards asylum seekers is based on cruelty and punishment. We too rarely hear from refugees themselves, the privatised system deliberately obscures their stories and faces.
The Global Mail has produced a stunning piece of multi-media, video journalism that details the reasons Hazara man like Hussein must leave Pakistan, due to threats on their life, and find safe haven somewhere. He films the journey from Pakistan to Australia.
Moving, revealing and telling work.
The wonders of the internet. I was informed this week that a leading daily media outlet in Asuncion, Paraguay, Ultima Hora, published a great article about my new book, Profits of Doom. The journalist, Guido Rodriguez, emailed me to explain that the message of the book resonated with many people in his country.
The following is a Google Translate version of the article so read with that in mind:
I would translate the title of the book and Profits of Doom, the brilliant journalist, photographer and documentary filmmaker Antony Loewenstein.
His reading is very timely, because [President] Horacio Cartes has asked to end the antagonism between politicians and businessmen at the top of Panama.
Antagonism What is it?
The problem of the moment is the collusion between businessmen and politicians, forgetting others.
Cartes proposes a public-private partnership as a solution to our problems. Well, this alliance exists in Haiti (Loewenstein tells us) and has allowed the construction of an industrial complex.
Is not it very similar to the industrial complex that our government proposed to build on the Parana to Rio Tinto?
Comparisons aside, the fact is that in the industrial complex of Haiti are paid wages below the legal minimum wage (five dollars per day), and the happy resort aims to become a center for recruiting cheap labor for multinationals.
Needless to say that Haiti is a very poor country with huge problems: it has a 60% unemployment and need to import at least 75% of its rice.
What it shows is that Loewenstein overcoming those problems should not expect the entry of speculative capital.
After the devastating earthquake of 2010, the country received a good amount of dollars in international aid, the results were not as expected.
It was not only because of the inefficiency and corruption that was, but the error in judgment: speculative capital have no interest in developing any poor country.
By the way neoliberal little Haiti’s future, moreover with vast natural resources (gold, copper, zinc), now tempt multinationals.
This author calls the curse of natural resources, thinking about what happened in Papua New Guinea with the arrival of multinational corporations.
The most famous case is that of the Panguna Mine on the island of Bougainvillea, whose inhabitants took up arms against the exploitation of gold and copper which caused tremendous ecological destruction.
Rebels won, but at a high price: thousands of deaths, destruction, poverty. The culprit was the BCL company, formed by the public-private partnership of local government and Rio Tinto.
Iraq and Afghanistan are other cases studied in Profits of Doom. Iraq’s oil wealth is obvious, what is less known are the mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which attract the attention of companies not necessarily charitable.
Another common feature of these two countries was the privatization of war.
For reasons of supposed efficiency, was entrusted to private companies, the food, the intelligence services and security, say the privatization of war.
In late 2012 (says Loewenstein), had 109,000 private contractors in Afghanistan, nearly twice the number of soldiers.
It has the private sector efficiency, but that the mercenaries earn much more than the soldiers of the occupying armies.
Decidedly, this little privatizing model can promise to Paraguay.
A new report (via Common Dreams) reveals the fallacy of this Western elite pushed scheme:
Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park—the U.S. State Department and Clinton Foundation pet project to deliver aid and reconstruction to earthquake-ravaged Haiti in the form of private investment—is systematically stealing its garment workers’ wages, paying them 34 percent less than minimum wage set by federal law, a breaking report from the Worker Rights Consortium reveals.
Critics charge that poverty wages illustrate the deep flaws with corporate models of so-called aid. “The failure of the Caracol Industrial Park to comply with minimum wage laws is a stain on the U.S.’s post-earthquake investments in Haiti and calls into question the sustainability and effectiveness of relying on the garment industry to lead Haiti’s reconstruction,” said Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Researchin an interview with Common Dreams.
Caracol is just one of five garment factories profiled in this damning report, released publicly on Wednesday, which finds that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” This is due to systematic employer cheating on piece-work and overtime, as well as failure to pay employees for hours worked.
WRC charges that the wage theft at these 5 factories is “typical” across the country’s garment industry, leading to the suppression of national wages at deep poverty levels. As a result, workers have trouble affording food, shelter, and medical care, the report finds.
Through a series of in-depth interviews, as well as review of pay records, researchers discovered that the problem of wage theft throughout the country’s garment industry is “egregious” at Northern Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park, which sits at the center of U.S. ‘reconstruction’ efforts and is slated to employ an estimated 20,000 people.
Financers included the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the Clinton Foundation, who invested a total of $224 million with promises to uphold high labor standards. Its anchor tenant is the Korean S&H Global factory, which sells garments to Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and Old Navy, according to the report.
The largest post-earthquake U.S. investment in Haiti, Caracol’s backers have championed it as a model for privatized reconstruction. In a July press release, the U.S. State Department champions the park as a chance to “spur economic growth and bring jobs to Haiti’s underserved regions.”
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended Caracol’s opening ceremony a year ago. “We’re sending a message that Haiti is open for business again,” Hillary Clintondeclared upon the announcement of the opening.
The Clinton Foundation did not immediately respond to a request from Common Dreams for an interview.
Prolific author, blogger and commentator Antony Loewenstein has targeted disaster capitalism in his new book, Profits of Doom. It’s an ambitious book seeking to not only build on Naomi Klein’s work from the The Shock Doctrine but to ‘generate a global debate’. A wide ranging text; part philosophy, part travelogue, built on a frank and unrelenting account of disaster capitalism as it applies to the resource sector, war, environmental catastrophes, foreign aid and detention centres. While only time will tell wether it achieves it’s ambition, it does provide a valuable insight into mining in Australian and Papua New Guinea [PNG] – two of the Mineral Policy Institute’s favourite subjects.
The PNG chapter, entitled Papua New Guinea – the resource curse, roams from Panguna to Ramu Nickel to the PNG LNG terminal near Port Morseby. Along the way it discusses the effectiveness of Australian Aid in PNG, the social and environmental impact of mining, attitudes to Australia, the Bougainville crisis and much more. Supported by interviews and numerous [footnoted] media accounts, Loewenstein delivers a personal narrative account of people impacted by the resource industry or working to reduce it, mixed with his own opinion on the impact of the resource curse in PNG.
Along the way we meet a number of people and either hear from them directly or via Anthony’s own words. Willy from Bougainville has a ‘faint hope that Australia will start thinking beyond money and mining’. Rosa Koin, from our friends at BRG, is critical of Australian aid, rejects mining and believes in empowered communities feeding themselves. Frank tells a short, but confronting story on what happens when families lose ownership of land and access to fishing.
While Loewenstein is not a extractives or PNG specialist, his work in other areas, including in this book, offer a valuable insight into the impact of the Australian Government and mining industry in PNG. While hard to choose, these concluding quotes go the heart of the problem and echo perspectives from our recent Hidden Valley documentary.
On economics …. “Nations with vested interest in PNG don’t overly care about its economic system as long as they can perform their resource extraction effectively…”
On PNG’s future… “What needed in PNG is a new model of investment, one that doesn’t treat the country’s natural wealth as jewels to be admired then taken. [and later] PNG shouldn’t be condemned to remain a land that offers little to locals and much to Western shareholders. Twenty-first century independence is possible”
Whether you share Loewenstein’s views or not, you will be confronted and challenged by the impact of [disaster] capitalism on the ground.
A key theme in my book Profits of Doom is how an agenda of privatisation never brings the prosperity that its proponents push.
New information, from the World Bank of all places, confirms this so listen up:
The World Bank is admitting that so-called economic growth in Africa, rooted in privatization and resource extraction by foreign companies, is not benefiting the vast majority of the continent’s people.
This comes from an institution has been widely criticized for pushing these very policies of ‘growth.’
Despite Africa’s much-vaunted ‘growth’ over the past decade, deep poverty and inequality are “unacceptably high and the pace of reduction unacceptably slow,” reads Africa’s Pulse, an analysis released Monday by the World Bank. “Almost one out of every two Africans lives in extreme poverty today,” and by the year 2030, a vast majority of the world’s poor will be located in Africa, the report finds.
Francisco Ferreira, Acting Chief Economist for the World Bank Africa Region, states, “Africa grew faster in the last decade than most other regions,” with a steadily climbing GDP noted in the report. Yet, this so-called growth is highly dependent on relatively few commodities sold for export, including oil, metals, and minerals. “Nearly three-quarters of countries rely on three commodities for 50 percent or more of export earnings,” the report reads, with countries like Angola and Nigeria depending on oil for up to 97 percent of all exports.
“[H]igh dependence on one or a few commodities makes Africa’s resource-rich countries vulnerable to sharp movements in prices of these commodities,” explains Punam Chuhan-Pole, Lead Economist of the World Bank’s Africa Region and author of Africa’s Pulse.
Furthermore, this wealth is siphoned off to foreign investors, with 2012 exports to the EU and U.S. reaching $148 billion, and exports to BRIC countries reaching $144 billion that same year.
Overall privatization is skyrocketing, with Gross fixed capital formation rising from 16.4% of GDP in 2000 to 20.4% in 2011, indicating the expansion of business assets.
“Higher economic growth does not automatically translate into higher poverty reduction,” the report states.
“[The report's Findings are] unfortunately pretty typical of what we’ve seen in global terms, particularly in the global south, where increases in economic growth overlook how citizens are impacted and reinforce the power of elite elements,” said leading scholar Stephen Zunes in an interview with Common Dreams. “Economic structures are still rooted in neo-colonial model.”
“Historically, the World Bank has pushed big mega-development projects that basically increase the rate at which you take stuff out of country, and increased the push for exports of raw materials and increases in consumer goods that only elites can afford,” he added.
“The problems of resource extraction in Africa are many,” writes Godwin Uyi Ojo inPambazuka News. “Collectively, they are bleeding Africa dry.”
One of the literary legacies of the financial crisis is a type of travel writing focused on the local social, economic, and environmental effects of unfettered global capitalism. There are two types of such books. Michael Lewis is perhaps the best known and most widely read author of the first kind, in which the reporter becomes a kind of tour guide to the financial freak show. In Boomerang (2011), Lewis shows how greed overwhelmed both the lenders and the borrowers of cheap money in places like Iceland, Ireland, and the United States. Reading him is like watching the circus through binoculars. The spectacle is both vividly close and comfortably distant; we enjoy the show but feel no direct involvement in the unfolding action.
The second type, exemplified in Antony Loewenstein’s important new book Profits of Doom, is written with the fire of the political activist. Loewenstein acknowledges the influence on his work of Naomi Klein, whose The Shock Doctrine (2007) defined a predatory ‘disaster capitalism’ that seeks to exploit war or natural disaster for private profit at the expense of local populations. Loewenstein writes: ‘Vulture, or predatory, capitalism has easily taken root in Australia and many other self-described democracies because of the limited ability and willingness of the public to scrutinise it and demand change.’
Profits of Doom is squarely a post-9/11 book, focused in large part on the unprecedented expansion of privatised surveillance and detention services on behalf of governments and even the United Nations since September 2001. We begin in remote, if familiar, territory at the Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia. Leaked documents from the British multinational Serco, which manages refugee detention on our behalf (Australia is the only country in the world to outsource all of its detention centres), reveal price gouging, ‘extreme rates of self-harm among detained refugees’, and the ‘non-reporting of mistakes’ to avoid government penalties. Here and in chapters on Afghanistan and Christmas Island, Loewenstein illustrates the disparity between the argument of most Western governments that outsourcing is cost-efficient and the expensive facts of private service delivery. Instead, he argues that the real value of private operators like Serco is to provide governments with ‘a convenient scapegoat for systemic failures’, and reveals the tactics by which those companies avoid or minimise government oversight. ‘This blurring of responsibility and accountability is a fundamental flaw of exploitative capitalism,’ he concludes.
On Christmas Island, witnessing the arrival of a ‘visibly overcrowded boat,’ he asks those standing at the water’s edge whether ‘anyone cares that a private company is making money from greater numbers of refugee arrivals’. One local man says ‘he feels uncomfortable about it, while a tourist isn’t aware of the fact’. After reading Profits of Doom it would be difficult to remain unaware of the merry-go-round of public policy and private profit in the privatised security industry, let alone comfortable about it. Still, it is hard to agree with the book’s assumption that all outsourcing is potentially corrupt: a privatised rubbish collection and disposal service, for example, is only problematic if the service does not make the savings stipulated in a contract or if that contract is not enforced.
The exploitation of natural resources at the expense of local populations is Loewenstein’s second major theme. In Papua New Guinea, he explores the ‘resource curse’ of poor nations with rich mineral deposits. He travels to Bougainville, twenty-five years after infuriated locals forced the closure of the polluting Panguna mine and sparked a civil war, just as talk of reopening the mine has begun. In Port Moresby he listens to angry locals and records the voices of the otherwise silent majority who seem powerless in the face of a web of vested interests. These moments are among the book’s most powerful.
Some of Loewenstein’s harshest criticism is aimed at non-government organisations (NGOs) in post-disaster zones. He regards them as a ‘conduit that ensures business for Western firms’, concluding that despite noble intentions the ‘NGO-isation of humanitarian relief’ weakens local governments by channelling donor country funds through their own agencies instead of supporting local initiatives.
In the context of these perhaps overly simplistic assessments, the author remains upbeat about the power of democracy, which he optimistically conflates with awareness. As you would expect from the author of The Blogging Revolution (2008), he encourages individual citizen bloggers and social media users to provide the ‘view from the ground’. ‘Awareness doesn’t necessarily bring change,’ he writes, ‘but it’s the first, vital step in doing so.’
Profits of Doom presents research and argument rather than potential solutions. In pressing for greater regulation of NGOs and forms of investment that transcend neo-colonialism, Lowenstein writes: ‘NGOs that are locally accountable, internationally connected and financially independent have made a difference and contributed to the greater sovereignty of those nations.’ It would be easy to think that in all the book’s distressed venues of vulture capitalism there are few such models. Among the despair in Haiti, however, Loewenstein mentions the growth of the renewable energy sector there under a ‘unique model … where local NGOs partner with government departments to reduce deforestation’. This tantalisingly brief reference feels like a missed opportunity to demonstrate what is working amid disaster capitalism’s catalogue of failures. Perhaps it is the beginnings of another book. If so, I for one am looking forward to it.