How Australia is creating mental health crisis with Serco’s help

Last week’s ABC TV 4 Corners, on the mental trauma suffered by refugees inside Australia’s immigration detention centre network, was a devastating portrait of dysfunction. We are literally breeding individuals who are going mad, if not worse. Locking people up for sometimes years is both unnecessary and unethical.

And who is making money from all this? British multinational Serco (who only feature in the story occasionally, unfortunately).

Corpwatch has just released a detailed report about Serco’s role in Australia and it is scathing:

Some 1,600 miles from the West Coast of Australia; Christmas Island sits alone, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. The cliff-bound territory, with some 1,400 residents on just over 50 square miles, hosts a detention center where thousands of immigrants who tried to enter Australia illegally are indefinitely detained. The policy of intercepting and holding without charge asylum seekers –including more than 1,000 children–has sparked political debate in Australia. But Serco, the UK company contracted to manage the center, has largely escaped scrutiny.

“[Serco’s] failure to perform is huge,” says Kaye Bernard, an organizer with the Christmas Island Workers Union. Bernard meets regularly with workers from the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (IDC). This year, several centers have teetered on the brink of chaos on numerous occasions, with riots at the Christmas Island and the Villawood IDC located in New South Wales. Unable to deal with the situation, Serco has called in the Australian Federal Police force, which has fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesting detainees. Various human and refugee rights groups have accused Serco guards of brutality including beating prisoners.

The privatisation of Australia’s immigration detention had a troubled history even before Serco’s arrival. Australasian Correctional Management and G4S were awarded contracts, in 1997 and 2003 respectively, to manage the country’s immigration detention centers, and both private companies attracted strong criticism.

Then, in 2009, the federal government awarded Serco a $367 million contract (since increased to $756 million) to manage Australia’s Immigration detention centers.

For Serco, the detention center deal “demonstrates our ability to successfully leverage our world-leading home affairs capabilities to further broaden our presence in Australia,” said Serco CEO Christopher Hyman in a media release announcing the 2009 contract win.

The conduct of the British company was controversial from the start. Serco has been fined for breaches of contract for every month that it has managed IDCs in Australia, according to Bernard. In March, The Australian reported that Serco had been fined a total of $4 million in early 2011. “We cannot detail breaches, fines imposed or other issues related to Serco’s contract as they are considered commercial-in-confidence,” a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told CorpWatch.

Indeed, the contract itself is confidential and Serco would not provide details even to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, which has been established by Federal Parliament to investigate the management of Australia’s immigration detention network.