Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015.

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.

Al Jazeera English gets “access” to Serco-run Christmas Island camp

When I visited Christmas Island in late 2011 (researching my book Profits of Doom), the Australian Immigration Department and Serco heavily restricted access (though I finally obtained entry on my last day). This was supposedly for asylum seeker “privacy” but in reality is a policy aimed to not humanise the faces and lives of refugees.

Al Jazeera English gets access but the images are largely useless and there’s no sense that a) the place is run by a British multinational and b) the sheer scale of the place and its status as essentially a harshly run prison. Media organisations should be careful accepting “access” when it arguably contributes little to the story. Then again, showing something of the camp is perhaps better than nothing:


Profits of Doom extract: politicised, privatised and silenced by bureaucracy

The following appears in the wonderful publication Right Now, an online site dedicated to human rights:

In his new book, Profits of Doomindependent Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Curtin Immigration Detention Centre and Christmas Island to investigate the reality of Australia’s, notoriously secretive, privatised detention facilities for asylum seekers. In this excerpt, Loewenstein is on Christmas Island (CI) but so far the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has denied him access to the detention facility on the island. But by chance, he witnesses for the first time the arrival of an overcrowded boat carrying asylum seekers towards the shore. 

By Antony Loewenstein

It’s another hot and humid day on CI and I still haven’t gained access to the detention facility. But I am about to talk to some of the detainees.

A few days earlier I met Joan Kelleher, a sister who works with the Christian aid organisation Australian Mercy, and a resident of CI since March 2010. She is also a daily visitor to the refugees in detention. Sister Joan is a true humanitarian. She’s opposed to mandatory detention and takes asylum seekers with fragile mental states on brief excursions to do activities such as cooking and swimming. She told me that she oscillates between despair and inspiration, but unfortunately feels more of the former. Then she recalled a Tamil man who has been inside the CI detention centre for 26 months—he has been granted refugee status but is waiting to receive security clearance. “I’m inspired by those who survive what this system throws at them”, she said. “And those who stay strong.”

Sister Joan then told me that she would be taking four Afghan Hazara refugees to the beach for a BBQ in a few days time, and suggested I come along.

I arrive to find the sister and the quartet of men wading barefoot in shallow water—one man dips his entire body underwater, fully clothed. It’s a beautiful day and the colour of the water alternates between green and blue. There are a few fishermen, and some boats on the horizon, but little else. The men are aged in their thirties and forties. They’re all married with children, their families still in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’ve all been rejected for refugee status twice by DIAC and remain in limbo in Australia, claiming they would be injured or killed if they were sent home (bombings in early 2013 that targeted the Hazara people in Quetta, Pakistan, where all the men have family, indicate the continuing threat). They appear pleased to see me, a new person to talk with.

The men collect different-coloured rocks to send to their children. One man, Abdul, can speak English and tells me that he has been in detention for 22 months, in Darwin and on CI. He takes six different antidepressants daily. His left eye is bloodshot, and he shows me injuries on his body that he claims were inflicted by the Taliban. He smiles as we talk, but says he is sad because he is unsure what will happen to him, and that he’s never given any definite information on his case, including a time line for when it will be resolved, from DIAC or Serco.

I talk to all the men but with varying degrees of success because of language difficulties. They say they want to be allowed to live in community detention, a policy implemented by Labor in 2012 that permits asylum seekers to live freely, but with minimal welfare payments and no work rights. It’s better than being in a high-security prison, but it still leaves them in a state of limbo. We discuss marriage, and they find it amusing that I am thirty-seven but still unmarried, with no children. They talk about the difficult existence of a detainee—the monotony of daily life, the lack of excursions or visitors, the humid weather.

Sister Joan has brought some sausages, rolls, onions and soft drinks. The men share the cooking duties, using the BBQs on the foreshore. It’s a change from the daily tedium, they say, clearly enjoying this brief excursion. They show gratitude towards the sister.

From our lunch spot, I can see the island’s one-time governor’s residence, which overlooks the harbour of Flying Fish Cove. Near the house is a small memorial to the SIEV X tragedy, commemorating a boat that sank on its way from Sumatra to Christmas Island in 2001, killing 353 people. The names of the children who died are written on small rocks.

Britain handed CI to Australia in 1957. Forty years later, CI and the Cocos Islands started being managed as the Australian Indian Ocean Territories, under the auspices of an administrator who lives on CI. After my excursion with Sister Joan, I go to a spacious office near the pier where asylum seekers are brought ashore, to interview the current Australian Government administrator of CI and the Cocos Islands, Brian Lacy.

Lacy is a former industrial court judge from Melbourne who is serving a two-year appointment on CI. He’s affable, generally sympathetic to refugees and not an advocate of mandatory detention. But he does praise Serco for helping the CI community and being a good corporate citizen. He receives twice-weekly briefings from Canberra involving “intelligence” related to asylum seekers on CI, and says he’s pleased that the numbers of detainees are down (though the figure wildly oscillates depending on boat arrivals). He appears to have been blindsided by the riots in 2011, but says he is committed to being better informed about the situation inside the detention centre. However, he’s only visited the CI centre once, on a guided tour, when he first arrived on the island.

Lacy’s role isn’t overly political and he constantly stresses that his aim is to bring benefits to CI and the Cocos Islands. He is concerned about the effects of the detention centre on CI, including the disparity in pay between local and temporary workers, and the impact of a high-security prison on a small island. He has asked Canberra for more resources to support the place, particularly more consultation and expanded facilities. It’s unclear how successful this will be—it is a common complaint from locals that the federal government is more interested in funding infrastructure that houses new boat arrivals rather than supports residents.

Lacy tells me he’s hired “consultants” to find ways to promote CI as a tourist destination, as it’s now primarily known as a detention island, in Australia and internationally. His job is unenviable.

Sadly, the refugees are about to be politicised, privatised and silenced by bureaucracy.

I’m walking back to my hotel when something out at sea attracts my attention, and I stop at the exact spot from which CI residents watched helplessly in December 2010 as refugees drowned in heavy seas. I can see a visibly overcrowded boat on the horizon, and it’s heading towards shore. Two large Australian ships and a few smaller vessels shadow the boat. A few people gather, filming and photographing the boat. Those around me, a mix of tourists and locals, are largely unsympathetic towards the incoming refugees. One says, “I bet they’ll find wads of cash in their pockets”. Two older couples say they are sick of so many boats arriving in Australia.

This is a regular occurrence on CI but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. It’s difficult not to feel sympathy for people who have sailed across dangerous waters to get to someplace safe.

I go down to the jetty, where several dozen DIAC, Serco, police and Customs officials, as well as interpreters and ambulance staff, await the arrival of the refugees. A number of CI residents and tourists are there too, and are mostly middle-aged or older. The ones I talk to all express opposition to refugees. They are “illegals” who might come and “take over”, like “what’s happening in parts of Europe”. One person says, “They should be pushed back to Indonesia, where they will be safe. Why are they coming to Australia? What if terrorists are on the boats? We have poverty here and people living in bad conditions on CI, but they come and are treated better than Australians”. I mention Serco and ask whether anyone cares that a private company is making money from greater numbers of refugee arrivals. One older man says he feels uncomfortable about it, while a tourist isn’t aware of the fact.

The refugee boat stops around 200 metres from the shore and a speedboat races out to meet it. After a short while, around fourteen refugees wearing life jackets are brought to the jetty, then more are brought ashore. I see a woman in a wheelchair (I’m later told she is pregnant), an exceptionally tall man, a young girl, a woman wearing a hijab, and a teenage boy. They are Middle Eastern in appearance. They’re frisked and their bags are collected.

Watching this piece of theatre, I’m moved. I don’t know the refugees or their stories, whether they are genuine or not, but after hearing little but demonisation of them for years, the first contact between asylum seekers and the government strikes me as a deeply human exchange. Sadly, the refugees are about to be politicised, privatised and silenced by bureaucracy.

The process on the jetty looks orderly and the various officials treat the asylum seekers with respect. I hear one woman near me say, “See how they always come with men and boys first, and then bring their families later?” As I walk back to my car, I start talking to a local Chinese man who is watching the proceedings. “They people, all bad Muslims”, he tells me. I ask him how he knows they are Muslims. “I’ve heard they are, and they’re not like the others.”

Arriving back at my hotel, I see an Australian ship alongside the refugee boat. The latter is to be set on fire and destroyed. I’ve been told the oil from such fires often floats to shore, damaging the coastline.

I search online for an official government statement about the latest CI boat arrival. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor sent out a press release around the time the boat was sighted, referring to a “suspected irregular entry vessel” with around 116 people onboard. The release stated that the “border protection command” had taken the refugees to land and begun processing them. But the statement is wrong. The refugees were still being brought to shore when it was issued, as I had seen with my own eyes. The press release is a template—the writer only needs to change the number of sighted asylum seekers. It’s as predictable as kabuki theatre.

Profits of Doom is available at Melbourne University Press.


Private companies making a fortune from asylum seekers

My following piece appears in the Melbourne Age today:

In 2005, Labor’s then immigration spokesman Tony Burke said detention centres for asylum seekers must never be run by private companies. “You shouldn’t have a situation”, he said, “where the level of supervision and the standard of care has anything to do with the private profits of an offshore company.”

It was a position Labor took to the 2007 election, pledging to place the nation’s centres back in public hands. The promise didn’t last long.

In 2009, Kevin Rudd’s government announced that British multinational Serco, a service-providing company dogged by human rights abuse scandals at home, had been awarded the $370 million contract to house the relatively few refugees then in detention.

Four years later, Serco controls more than 20 centres across the nation and more than 10,500 people. The contract, constantly evolving with increasing boat arrivals, is now worth more than $1.86 billion. Other companies, such as G4S, Toll Group, Lohberger Engineering, Decmil and Canstruct are revelling in Labor’s pain. Stopping the boats will be bad for business.

One of the least examined aspects of refugee policy is the companies making a killing from the government’s failure to humanely process asylum seekers. John Howard accelerated outsourcing to the point where dozens of former detainees received compensation after being assaulted or psychologically damaged, while guards still experience post-traumatic stress because they never received appropriate training.

I read almost daily emails from former local employees of some of the world’s largest private prison companies. They tell me about their nightmares and say their managers during the early 2000s would allow detention centres to descend into crisis to force Canberra’s hand and guarantee more funds to ”manage” the situation. ”The budget for reassuring Australians is bottomless,” journalist David Marr has written.

The idea that private industry is more efficient and cheaper than the public sector is an illusion.

It is adherence to neo-liberal ideology that explains why Australia doesn’t want governments in the business of public services, war, mining and increasingly aid. The state is bad. Private enterprise is good.

Corporate lobbyists grease the wheels – witness the long line of Australian politicians on ”study tours” to Britain being wined and dined by Serco, which hopes to persuade them to privatise yet another hospital or juvenile justice program – and the public is left short-changed, with lower standards of care.

During the writing of my new book, Profits of Doom, I spent time with a senior Serco manager who was disgusted with what he saw as his employer exploiting the government’s troubles over asylum seekers. He gave me internal documents that point to price-gouging, especially on ferrying refugees to different camps, understaffing, undertraining and disturbing levels of self-harm by detainees. In one month alone, January 2012, Serco made 65 per cent profit at Northern Territory’s Wickham Point, more than $2.5 million. British Serco management has a ”colonial attitude” towards Australia, the source said, and make little effort to understand local conditions.

The company is rarely fined by the government for breaches because, I was told, managers are instructed not to report problems. The bottom line is all that matters. The contract between Serco and the government – I’ve seen one of the latest versions – indicates there are few formal mechanisms that are policed to ensure an accurate reporting regime.

The contract between Canberra and G4S, the British company running Manus Island, is even vaguer and dictates no independent audits. Former G4S manager Rod St George recently told SBS TV’s Dateline there had been rapes and physical abuses in the camps.

Yet the profits keep coming. Decmil won a $137 million contract in June to build a centre on Manus. Guess who will be rapt by the prospect of housing thousands more detainees if Rudd’s ”PNG solution” is fully implemented?

My Serco source told me recently that both the company and the Immigration Department were in ”chaos” and ”can’t handle the boats”. Yet the corporation is reducing staff to ”keep profits high”, he said.

Serco says the allegations against it are unwarranted and untrue. It denies understaffing and undertraining, and says ”bad apples” among staff are disciplined or fired and that asylum seekers are treated with compassion.

In Britain, the Ministry of Justice recently found ”serious concerns” over G4S and Serco-run prisons and urged a ”halt to the privatisation of justice”. In another English case almost 10 years ago, a 100-kilogram guard employed by G4S fatally restrained a 40-kilogram boy. Rather than dismissing the man, the company promoted him to health and safety manager for G4S’ children’s services.

My Serco source says managers are routinely moved, especially at the ”most difficult centres” such as Darwin and Christmas Island. ”They’re told if they get abatements [fines from Canberra], they’ll be fired”.

In Australia, Labor and the Liberals are committed to engorging private companies in their war against asylum seekers, but accountability is close to non-existent – ask any journalist trying to get straight answers from Serco, G4S or the Immigration Department and they’ll tell you the system is gamed to obfuscate.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Refugees aren’t products to be packaged at the lowest prices and sold to the highest bidder. Today, however, the only people benefiting from detainees’ misery are the corporations warehousing them.

Journalist Antony Loewenstein is the author of Profits of Doom: How Vulture Capitalism is Swallowing the World (MUP)


Readings positively reviews Profits of Doom

My new book Profits of Doom is now out. Here’s a great review from one of Australia’s leading independent bookstores, Readings:

Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein has travelled to Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, Haiti and around Australia to report on a growing trend of ‘vulture capitalism’ where the political and economic culture encourages ‘corporate vultures to swoop down upon the carcasses of weakened institutions and industries’. Vulture capitalism produces privatised and for-profit prisons, refugee detention centres, militaries and disaster reconstruction projects. The corporations that run these ventures lack transparency and accountability, and many people are unaware of the power they wield.

I was certainly unaware of the extent to which Australia’s refugee detention centres are privatised. It costs the government more money to keep an asylum seeker in detention than in the community, reports Loewenstein, and it is in the profit-making interest of the private companies running the centres to hold people for as long as possible. Loewenstein also exposes the power of the fossil fuel corporations and travels to James Price Point and PNG to examine the social and environmental consequences. He writes that ‘calling out the corporations that are causing global environmental damage is vital’.

Loewenstein builds on ideas from Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, which documents what she terms ‘disaster capitalism’. Klein investigates the extent to which, after war or natural disaster has ravaged a nation, government deregulation and privatisation is imposed without democratic participation. Loewenstein sees a new brand of vulture capitalism, one that goes beyond the exploitation of disaster to infringe on more and more aspects of society.

But Loewenstein’s book is not all doom and gloom: he talks to people on the ground, each fighting against corporate power and predatory capitalism. His aim is to demand accountability and start a global debate. With a voice that is reasoned and intelligent, he warns of ‘a future that is being written without your consent’.

Kara Nicholson is currently completing a masters in environmental studies and spends her time reading novels to avoid doing any of the actual study part.


Australia’s behaviour towards Papua New Guinea akin to vulture capitalism

My following article appears today in the Guardian:

The Australian government’s decision to send all refugee boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a political earthquake. It has nothing to do with alleviating the suffering of asylum seekers – if Canberra cared about it, a regional solution would allow processing of claims in Indonesia – and will further burden a poor neighbour. Some will be licking their lips at the prospect of massively enlarged detention centres; private companies will make a killing.

Veteran ABC journalist Sean Dorney rightly worries about social cohesion in PNG with the inevitable influx of thousands of people. Local communities there are already concerned that once again, they’re being forgotten. There’s no welfare system in the state, and its health and education infrastructures are crumbling. They’ll rightly wonder why these new arrivals will be treated better than the countless families in squatter settlements, including in the centre of the capital, Port Moresby.

I visited these areas myself in 2012 and spoke to locals who reminded me that Australian aid, over $500m annually, was having no positive impact on their lives. Prime minister Kevin Rudd’s latest announcement – to improve hospitals and universities in a touching bribe to PNG’s political elites – will be greeted with necessary skepticism by the many citizens who never see a decent hospital or school for their children.

The problem has never been that Australia gives too much aid; it’s that we’re throwing huge amounts of money to avoid a failed state on our doorstep by backing rapacious mining interests and overpaid consultants. After decades of Australian aid, PNG’s rates of infant mortality, sexual violence against women and corruption have never been worse.

None of this concerns both major sides of Australian politics. For more than a decade, they’ve outsourced the most unpleasant tasks of refugee processing to largely unaccountable private firms (British multinationals Serco and G4S being the most obvious), and Rudd’s latest moves will inevitably enrich even more of them. G4S, currently embroiled in a massive overcharging investigation case in Britain and facing a civil suit over claims three of its UK security officers assaulted a man while escorting him on a plane during a deportation, was granted an $80m contract by Australia to run the government’s facilities on PNG’s Manus Island. Recent revelations in the Guardian reveal that there has been no official oversight of processing times in the UN condemned facility.

This mirrors my own investigations, assisted by a senior Serco source, that confirms Canberra barely monitors the operation, because Australia so desperately needs the corporation to warehouse individuals and families.

This is the fate now facing PNG, with even more multinationals bidding for influence and profits in a nation whose last government was described by US officials in Wikileaks cables as a “totally dysfunctional blob”. G4S already have a large presence in PNG, I saw local staff guarding many buildings and energy installations last year, and Port Moresby has allowed the company to manage the soon-to-launch Exxon-Mobil LNG plant.

NGO Jubilee Australia released a 2012 report called Pipe Dreams (disclosure: I offered advice on certain sections and provided some photos) that questioned the Australian government’s financial and rhetoric backing of the $19bn LNG project. “There are serious risks that the revenues generated by the project will not mitigate the negative economic and social impacts of the project”, they argued. “In fact, it is very likely that the Project will exacerbate poverty, increase corruption and lead to more violence in the country.” Remember this is what Australia means when it boasts of assisting our northern neighbour.

History is repeating. I visited the province of Bougainville in 2012 to witness the aftermath of a civil war between a state and locals who opposed a polluting mine. At least 15,000 people were killed during the conflict in the 1980s and 1990s. Australia backed the PNG government to the hilt, and today there are moves to re-open the copper and gold mine without justice being served for crimes committed or a thorough environmental clean-up. This is how Australia supports PNG. A number of PNG citizens told me they wanted all Australian aid to stop immediately, because we’re forcing on them a development model that is only enriching political and industry elites.

Australia’s relationship with PNG since Canberra granted independence in 1975 has been based on paternalism. We have believed that throwing billions of dollars at our former subjects will bring prosperity and security. Former prime minister John Howard proudly wore the title (endorsed by former US President George W Bush) of Australia being “Washington’s deputy sheriff in the Asia-Pacific region”.

The population of PNG knows that we don’t treat them with respect and this latest move against asylum seekers will merely confirm that belief. Tragically, akin to Nauru having no economic alternative to accepting refugees from Australia, PNG is placed in exactly the same position by a regional bully that contributes to both these nations lying in ruin.

“Stopping the boats” and avoiding people dying at sea is a noble motive if its combined with solutions that place the rights of refugees first. Instead, we’re locked in a battle to punish a tiny fraction of the world’s asylum seekers.

The idea that refugees are an existential threat to Australia is laughable, but Labor’s so-called PNG solution completely accepts the narrative set by the Liberal Party since before 9/11. It remains almost verboten to argue for open borders in Western political discourse. An Indonesian people smuggler has already told ABC that the “PNG solution” may reduce the boats “for a while”. But at what cost? Using PNG as a dumping ground for an Australian political problem is guaranteed to breed resentment in a country most of our media studiously ignores.

Australia treats its neighbours with contempt. As soon as the latest contortions of refugee policy were announced last week, I tweeted that Australia could possibly expect international sanctions, not unlike against Israel due to its human rights abuses of Palestinians. If we flagrantly ignore international law and morality while locking up the most vulnerable people on the planet in privatised centres, we deserve nothing less.


G4S and Serco act fraudulently in UK but more contracts flowing

A key issue in my forthcoming book, Profits of Doom, is the role of multinationals in turning huge profits from warehousing the most vulnerable people in our societies, including asylum seekers.

These revelations in Britain (via The Independent) are interesting but sadly history suggests that like vampires these corporations continue scoring contracts because neo-liberal politicians and officials simply can’t imagine a world where providing the best, as opposed to the supposedly “cheapest”, is the goal:

Whitehall contracts running into billions of pounds are being urgently reviewed after the Government disclosed that two major firms had charged the taxpayer to monitor non-existent electronic tags, some of which had been assigned to dead offenders.

In an announcement that throws the Coalition’s privatisation drive into disarray, the Serious Fraud Office was called in to investigate G4S, the world’s largest security company, over contracts dating back over a decade.

Serco, one of Britain’s largest companies, also faces an inquiry by auditors over its charges for operating tagging schemes.

The firms supply an array of services to the public sector from running courts, prisons and immigration removal centres to managing welfare-to-work schemes and the Atomic Weapons Establishment.

Between them the two companies receive around £1.5bn a year from the taxpayer, but their contracts are worth billions of pounds because the vast majority run for several years.

They were also hoping to cash in on moves by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to hand them further large contracts to operate prisons and supervise offenders in the community.

The process of awarding all contracts was put on hold last night as the inquiries got underway.

The MoJ began investigating all its agreements with the two firms, including the running of major prisons, while the Cabinet Office started scrutinising all other Government contracts with G4S and Serco.

Shares in both companies fell sharply after the announcement by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary.

Shares in G4S – which suffered torrid publicity over its mishandling of the last year’s London Olympics security contract – finished the day 12.6p down at 213p. Serco tumbled by 54p to 626.5p.

Each of the companies relies heavily on Britain both for income and burnishing its international reputation. The move by the Government is unlikely to result in the wholesale loss of contracts, as the firms have few competitors of the same size but is a blow to their standing worldwide.


Behind the wire of privatised immigration detention

The reality inside Australia’s countless, Serco run detention centres is far too often ignored by the media. There are notable exceptions, of course, and it’s a key theme in my upcoming book, Profits of Doom.

One of the strongest examples of independent journalism tackling the issue is the public release this week of Detention Logs, a project by three young journalists keen to bring far more transparency to what the general public knows and understands about the literally thousands of refugees trapped in immigration detention. Their key pieces this week are here, here, herehere and here.

It’s worth remembering that this project has been independently financed and initiated without the backing of the mainstream media (Detention Logs wants and needs your help). I know this because I’m friends with two of the journalists. That says something about the parlous state of investigative reporting in Australia.


How privatisation infects Australia

My following piece is published today in the Guardian Australia:

The racism was raw. In 2011, John worked inside the Villawood detention centre in Sydney, and had little time for asylum seekers and their plight. He believed they had more rights than he and his co-workers had been given. John was employed by MSS Security, a private company contracted by British multinational Serco for menial work. He claimed that the lack of accountability for the behaviour of his employer proved the immigration detention system was broken. It was his opinion that the Australian army should manage detainees, because companies such as Serco “balk at a problem and remain eternally paranoid about losing the contract with the government”. The racism expressed by John is commonplace; I have met countless others on Christmas Island and at the Curtin detention centre holding similar views.

Nothing, it seems, has happened since that would change his view. Serco has over a billion dollars’ worth of contracts with Canberra to manage the never-ending stream of asylum boats. No other country in the world has outsourced these services to so few companies (you can count on on one hand the corporations receiving the vast bulk of the government’s money). In recent years, countless alleged cases of mismanagement and price-gouging have been documented within Serco and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. These include Canberra’s failure to impose an independent auditing regime to monitor the multinational’s conduct in its many centres and the apparent failure to address potential remaining asbestos risks at Villawood.

Despite such problems, both the Labor and Liberal parties support the model currently in place for immigration detention, and few voices in the mainstream media challenge the underlying philosophy of having a for-profit company managing some of the most vulnerable people in society. The results are high rates of self-harmmental health problems and attempted suicide (all documented last week in a damning report by the Commonwealth and immigration ombudsman), restricted media access and unnecessary commercial-in-confidence agreements between the government and corporations. There is an ethically blurry environment where the more refugees arrive on our shores, the more profits companies make.

The ongoing march for privatisation does not stop here. Rightwing thinktanks in Australia, such as the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs (a group that refuses to release a list of its financial donors), regularly call for the mass privatisation of state services. This includes the ABC, despite consistent public polling findinghuge support for the broadcaster.

Australia is the most tightly controlled media environment in the western world, with over 70% of print publication owned by US citizen Rupert Murdoch; in the words of John Pilger, “Australia is the world’s first murdochracy”. Indeed, charges against the ABC mirror the comments by James Murdoch about the BBC in 2009: “The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision.”

Imagining a different Australia is possible, but the challenges are great.

The corporate media deliberately conflates “privatisation” with “reform”, and neoliberal ideology is accepted as fact. Even the Greens have embraced a market mechanism to reduce climate change, despite vast evidence questioning for-profit companies being the most appropriate way to do so. Canadian writer Naomi Klein is currently working on a book that will argue that capitalism is inherently incapable of reforming itself to tackle catastrophic changes to our climate.

In Australia, resistance to privatisation is reflected at the ballot box. The vast bulk of voters, according to polling, believe that corporations are the greatest beneficiaries from selling off public assets and overwhelmingly think that the state should own essential infrastructure. Voters also show their displeasure with the outsourcing agenda by often opposing parties that back it. Queensland is a key example, with current moves for mass outsourcing facing huge union opposition.

The left must now do a far better job in providing appealing alternatives. The facts are on its side. According to a recent report by the Australia Institute, electricity privatisation in Victoria has neither increased efficiency nor reduced prices. You won’t hear these uncomfortable truths from neoliberal propagandists. Despite the corporate press praising public-private partnerships, 2013 has seen the collapse of Australia’s biggest transport infrastructure project, Brisbane’s Airport Link tunnel, leaving more than $3bn of debt.

Civil disobedience, akin to protests in Western Australia against theoverwhelming influence of Serco, or detainees on Nauru hunger-strikingfor better care and processing, may be necessary. But more central is understanding how privatisation has become normalised in this country, despite it being opposed by societies across the world. Although states such as Argentina have seen first-hand the disastrous consequences of a rush to privatise water, Australians’ ability to resist similar plans requires a concerted effort from communities, media and politicians to explain the fallacies of accepted wisdom from market fundamentalists and free-marketeer historians who hold extreme views too often dressed up as rational and sensible.

The rot sits deep in Australia. The dumping of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island is enriching countless organisations who know a desperate government when they smell it. Vulture capitalism thrives on poor Pacific islands because the Labor party wants to restrict the ability of the public to humanise the plight of those fleeing Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or Iran.

That companies are making a profit from this suffering shames us all.


How Britain sells weapons to the world and still claims to be responsible nation

Penetrating story by Andy Beckett in the Guardian:

In the town centre of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, between McDonald’s and Carphone Warehouse, there is an unusual statue. Four firm-jawed figures in factory clothes stand back-to-back. One wears a flat cap, one wields a sledgehammer, one has a welder’s visor. All of them are in purposeful poses, idealised workers cast in bronze. Around the statue base run the words “labour”, “courage” and “progress”. Its structure feels like something from the Soviet Union in the 30s.

But the statue is British and only eight years old. Its subject and design, slightly startling in a country that stopped celebrating most factory workers decades ago, is explained by a small plaque. Part of the statue was “donated by BAE Systems Submarines”.

Barrow is a defence industry town. It builds Britain’s nuclear submarines. And in defence the way of doing things – culturally, economically, politically – is different from other British industries. In defence, manufacturing jobs still have prestige, long-term prospects and political leverage. Unions are strong, but work closely with management. Apprenticeships are sought-after and numerous. Political support for the business comes from across the ideological spectrum: when the European Fighter Aircraft collaboration between Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, now known as theTyphoon, was threatened with cancellation in the 90s, even the Socialist Workers party protested (“No Closures. No job losses. Stuff the Tories.”) This week, David Cameron’s much-hyped trade visit to India is promoting the Typhoon as one of its key objectives.

Robin Cook, the late Labour minister, a rare defence industry critic in Westminster, wrote in his 2004 diaries that the then chairman of BAE, Dick Evans, seemed to have “the key to the garden door of No 10”. Roger Johnston, a defence analyst at Edison Investment Research, says: “As an industry, it is reasonably unique in how it’s viewed within government.”

In this business, in defiance of the past three decades’ free-market orthodoxies, the state is pivotal. Accompanying Cameron in India are representatives of a dozen British or partly British-based companies – the industry is clever at blurring such definitions – with defence interests: Rolls-Royce, Serco, BAE, EADS, Thales, Atkins, Cobham, JCB, Strongfield Technologies, MBDA, Ultra Electronics.

The British state is also the industry’s biggest customer, with our armed forces accounting for four-fifths of its annual sales; the provider of an “export support team”, including “serving British army personnel”; the provider of export insurance, for a fee, in case foreign customers fail to pay for products. Above all, the state is the provider of the wars that act as the industry’s best showcase.

The Typhoon fighter jet performed outstandingly in Libya,” said Cameron in December, before an official visit to the Middle East. “So it’s no surprise that Oman want to add this aircraft to their fleet.” On landing in the wealthy Gulf state, he strode quickly from his prime ministerial plane, in front of the TV cameras, to where a pair of dart-like Typhoons had been specially parked in the perfect, sales-catalogue sunshine, barely a hundred yards away. He climbed a set of steps to the open cockpit of one of the fighters, and held a stagey conversation with its pilot. That day, it was confirmed that Oman had bought a dozen of the aircraft.

“Boosting exports is vital for economic growth, and that’s why I’m doing all I can to promote British business … so [it] can thrive in the global race,” said Cameron on the eve of his Oman trip. “Every country in the world has a right to self-defence, and I’m determined to put Britain’s first-class defence industry at the forefront of this market, supporting 300,000 jobs across the country.”

Despite leading an overcommitted, often embattled government, he has frequently found time for foreign visits with a defence exports element. He has been to India before, in July 2010; Egypt and Kuwait in February 2011; Saudi Arabia in January 2012; Indonesia, Japan, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore in April 2012; Brazil in September 2012; and Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi in November 2012. Throughout, his salesmanship and justifying rhetoric have been strikingly unashamed.

“The PM has done a fantastic job,” says Howard Wheeldon, director of policy for ADS, a defence trade body. “He has picked up the value of defence to the national economy. Other PMs haven’t, necessarily. Mrs T was very supportive of defence exports … Brown wasn’t, but Blair was …”


Serco and G4S making a killing by British outsourcing craze

(Via The Independent):

More than half of the Government’s contract spending on detention services went to just two firms, G4S and Serco, a report reveals today.

G4S was this month stripped of a key prison contract in the wake of its shambolic handling of Olympic security but the report reveals it won contracts for a third of spending on detention, surveillance, prisoner escort and deportation.

The report, by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, shows that out of £745m spent on contractors by the UK Border Agency and the National Offender Management Service between May 2010 and April 2011, G4S received £229m while £154m – one fifth – went to Serco.

Richard Garside, one of the report’s authors, said: “For… two very large companies [to] hold more than half the contracts doesn’t strike us as a particularly promising way of diversifying the market place.” He said it was against the public interest to have a near-monopoly on “very lucrative contracts which are shrouded in commercial confidentiality”.

Shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan said it emphasised the need for extending Freedom of Information so there was greater transparency.

Justice minister Jeremy Wright said new organisations were now competing in the market, adding: “Through competition we have secured significant cost reduction.”

G4S declined to comment but said the contracts were awarded only after a comprehensive and transparent procurement process.

Serco said: “All our contracts have been awarded following competitions designed to deliver value for the customer.”


When a country privatises the kitchen sink, quelle surprise when things go wrong

Interesting development in Britain (via the Guardian) that shows deep concern with the companies both major sides of politics increasingly believe should run the country:

Home Office ministers have ordered weekly reports on the progress of two new contracts with the private security companies G4S and Serco to house and provide support services for thousands of asylum seekers and their families.

The chief executive of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), Rob Whiteman, has confirmed that serious concerns about the ability of the two companies to find housing for thousands of asylum seekers across the north of England by November has led to closer monitoring at the most senior levels of the Home Office.

The £883m a year Compass contract to provide support services for dispersed asylum seekers is the largest project run by the Home Office. The two private security companies took over the five-year asylum housing contracts in four of the six UKBA regions across Britain from social landlords, including councils, in March.

The companies were expected to start moving people in June. But after a contractual dispute G4S dropped its housing subcontractor for the Yorkshire and Humberside region, United Property Management, in June and its new subcontractors have yet to find enough homes.

Two councils, Sheffield and Kirklees, have raised concerns about their ability to deliver the housing contract within the expected timetable. Kirklees council said that a fortnight ago, only one family out of 240 asylum seekers had been moved as part of the transition from the council to the new providers.

“There are 240 asylum seekers being assisted. We understand the subcontractors are finding it difficult to procure accommodation and the council has been asked to continue to provide assistance until the end of October. There is no suggestion however that the council’s contract will be renewed after this time.”

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Yet another company profits from Australia’s privatised detention system

Shameful (via Paige Taylor in The Australian):

It will cost about $29 million over the next 20 months for independent observers to watch over young, unaccompanied asylum-seekers in Australia’s immigration detention camps.

The figure is the nominal amount of a new contract between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the US-linked Maximus Solutions to provide “care and support” to teenage asylum-seekers who arrive by boat without a parent or a guardian.

There are currently 168 such teens, mostly boys, living under guard in “alternative places of detention” at Darwin airport, on Christmas Island and at a camp in the West Australian northern goldfields town of Leonora.

In the costly context of Australia’s immigration detention network, the department finds the $29m contract represents good value.

It is a tiny sliver of the size of the five-year contract between the Immigration Department and Serco for the management of Australia’s immigration detention centres on Christmas Island and the mainland; in July last year, that agreement, due to expire in 2014, was valued at $1,032,827,276.

The contract is one of the measures the federal government has in place to meet its obligations towards unaccompanied minors.

“As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Australian government takes its obligations towards unaccompanied minors very seriously,” the Immigration Department states on its website.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is the legal guardian of all unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Australia; as of last Friday, there were a total of 310 — almost half, 142, had been placed in community housing under the care of the Red Cross while the rest were still in detention. “The contract is for care and support services to unaccompanied minors in the detention network,” a spokesman for the department said yesterday.

“It is also for ‘independent observer’ services on Christmas Island and in mainland Australia.”

Since 2009, the contract has been held by Australian not-for-profit organisation Life Without Barriers.

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