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.
During my Profits of Doom book tour last week in Western Australia, I was interviewed by one of the major commercial stations, 6PR, and its morning host Paul Murray. It was pleasing to hear robust criticisms of the British multinational Serco:
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has abolished AusAID as a free-standing agency and folded it into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He has also announced more than $4 billion in cuts to the aid budget, prompting protests from church and charity leaders. But does foreign aid help those in need or does it enrich corrupt government officials and the multinational corporations that win lucrative aid contracts? And what are the ethical problems that arise from corporations that swoop into countries that have been wracked by disaster or conflict to make profits. Antony Loewenstein, author of Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World, discusses the issues with Andrew West.
And now this (via The Canberra Times):
Australia has a higher proportion of prisoners in privately run jails than any other nation in the world thanks to its asylum seeker policy, a report says.
It says the population in Australia’s privately run prisons has increased 95 per cent in the past 15 years.
Australia has the most detainees in profit-driven facilities because its detention centres for asylum seekers are run by private companies, the report says.
The report, International Growth Trends in Prison Privatisation, said 19 per cent of the nation’s 28,711 prisoners were in privately run facilities in 2011.
According to the report, prepared by a US lobby group called The Sentencing Project, Australia’s first private prison was opened 23 years ago and there has been an increase in similar facilities ever since.
It said that, as of 2011, there were more than 5500 prisoners in jails managed by for-profit companies.
While prisoners in privately run prisons increased more than 90 per cent since 1998, the number of prisoners in state-run jails grew by 50 per cent and the total prison population increased by 57 per cent.
All the ACT’s prisons are managed by the territory government while the privately run facilities are in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia.
A criminologist at the University of Canberra, Lorana Bartels, said historically the main criticism against privately run facilities was that they focused on maximising profits.
One of the more controversial cases in Australia involving private contractors was the death of an Aboriginal elder in Western Australia who died in January 2008, after being transported hundreds of kilometres by a private prisoner transport company.
“Some questioned whether this would have happened if it was a government-run prisoner transport van,” she said.
Fairfax Media reported in April that private security company Serco’s contracts with the government had blown out by $1.5 billion, as Australia’s border protection system became strained because of increased flows of asylum seekers.
It was reported one Serco contract, for running Australia’s detention centres, was originally valued at $279 million in 2009. Three amendments later, it was worth $1.67 billion. A contract for residential housing and immigration transit services grew from $44 million in 2009 to $195.4 million this year.
It’s rare to get a chance in today’s media climate to have a long conversation about serious issues.
This interview, about my new book Profits of Doom, was broadcast on Melbourne’s Triple R Spoke program, and we spoke in depth about the reality of privatised detention centres, privatised war in Afghanistan and challenging the seeming inevitability of outsourcing in our societies.