Exclusive: Australian government contract with Serco revealed

The following global exclusive, written with Paul Farrell and Marni Cordell, appears today in Australian magazine New Matilda:

Today NM publishes the contract signed between the Department of Immigration and Serco, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act

New Matilda has gained exclusive access to the first publicly available version of the 2009 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) contract with British multinational Serco.

The contract was obtained through a Freedom of Information request and reveals the most comprehensive information yet about the running of Australian detention… centres.

New Matilda’s analysis of the document reveals… that:

  • … General security guards can begin work with no formal security qualifications and are only required to obtain a Certificate II within six months of working with… Serco.
  • Clinical depression, childbirth and voluntary starvation for under 24 hours are considered “minor” incidents while unauthorised media access is considered… “critical”.
  • Of these “minor” incidents, only 10 per cent are required to be audited internally by… Serco.
  • There is no contractual requirement of an independent audit of Serco’s management of detention… centres.

The first 80 pages of the contract can be downloaded here. Links to the remaining sections can be found at the end of this… article.

Other issues of note… include:

  • Serco is obliged to provide phone services to people in detention but the contract specifies that mobile phone handsets “[must] not have a recording facility (either audio or… visual)”.
  • Serco must also “control and limit” detainees’ internet access to pornography, FTP sites, and “prohibited sites in foreign languages”. It is not specified which sites are prohibited and under what… law.
  • If a member of the public complains or provides feedback about an immigration detention centre, Serco must notify the department within one day and provide a written response to the person within two weeks, “setting out the action taken of the reason why no action will be… taken”.
  • Serco is obliged to provide “tea, coffee, water and biscuits” when detainees have visitors and visiting areas must contain “hot/cold drinks and confectionery vending… machines”.
  • Serco must “not provide access to the Facility for media visits unless the visit has been approved by the Department” and must “ensure that media personnel only conduct activities approved by the… Department”.
  • Serco indemnifies DIAC from and against any loss arising from or as a consequence of any “death, or bodily injury, disease or illness (including mental illness) of any person including People in Detention”… — this clause survives for a period of seven years following the expiration of the… contract.

According to a letter from DIAC’s FOI officer, Serco objects to DIAC’s decision to release some parts of this contract and has exercised its rights under FOI law to block access to those sections in the document marked “s27… consultation”.

View the FOI officer’s decision and a full list of the documents that were blocked by Serco here.

However, New Matilda has also obtained a leaked copy of the contract in which some of these blocked sections are… visible.

This version of the contract has not been officially released, and… reveals:

  • The internal and external perimeter of the detention centres are only required to be checked by security guards twice a day; at the opening of the centre and before it’s locked… up.
  • Checks to ensure detainees are “present and safe” are only required to be conducted four times a… day.
  • A carrot and stick system of “abatements” and “incentives” where Serco is fined for poor performance and rewarded with higher fees for good… performance

Read the leaked version of the contract here.

The fact that this contract has only been released now, more than two years after it was signed, reflects how closely guarded the agreement between Serco and the Federal Government… remains.

Last week, Serco’s Australian CEO Bob McGuiness told Perth Now that he was “gobsmacked” to hear Serco described as a “secretive organisation” in the media. “I find that astonishing,” he… said.

In fact, the contract prohibits Serco employees from speaking to the media at all. It… reads:

“The Service Provider must not, and will ensure that its officers, employees, directors, contractors and agents do not:
Make any public statement;
Release any information to, make any statement to, deal with any inquiry from or otherwise advise the media;
Publish distribute or otherwise make available any information or material to third… parties.”

The hypocrisy of McGuiness’s comments is also remarkable in light of Serco’s attempts to block access to information that the DIAC FOI decision maker has argued should be public.

The Labor government and DIAC agreed to the terms of this contract. By privatising immigration detention centres, successive Australian governments have kept these issues out of sight and out of mind, under the pretence of information being “commercial-in-confidence”. Bureaucratic buck-passing ensures little firm information is ever… released.

Many parts of the contract have still not been released on the decision of DIAC’s FOI officer… — including the names of the Serco directors who manage relations with DIAC and run detention… centres.

Read NM’s extended coverage of the contract here and here.

Links to Serco contract (FOI… version)

Volume 1, Part… 1

Volume 1, Part… 2

Volume 1, Part… 3

Volume 1, Part… 4

Volume 1, Part 5

Volume 1, Part… 6

Volume 1, Part… 7

Volume 2, Part… 1

Volume 2, Part… 2

Volume 2, Part 3

Volume 2, Part… 4

Volume 2, Part 5

Volume 2, Part… 6