It’s official; Australian government happy for Serco to do what it pleases

The glories of unaccountable privatisation in action (via New Matilda):

Not only is the $1 billion contract awarded to detention centre operator Serco beyond the reach of public scrutiny, but Senate Estimates hearings today revealed that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship collects scant data on breaches and has limited knowledge and oversight of staff training levels.

In what was a stellar confirmation of the Greens’ reputation as Senate watchdogs, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young doggedly pressed DIAC assistant secretary Fiona Lynch-Magor over allegations that Serco has been posting untrained and inexperienced guards to Australia’s overcrowded detention centres, with surprising… results.

When asked by Hanson-Young, the DIAC official was unable to list the number of times Serco had breached the “management and service” provision of the contract, relating to detention centre operations, because the contract “doesn’t record specific breaches per incident”, instead measuring Serco’s performance under a “series of abatements that apply to certain… metrics”.

The abatements, issued as retrospective fines, have been occurring on Lynch-Magor’s admission “since the beginning of the contract”, but are “not recorded in a recordable number”. “Systemic” breaches trigger “continuous failure” under the contract, which has a multiplier effect on the abatement… issued.

Senator Hanson-Young appeared increasingly frustrated with Lynch-Magor’s answers, which became more circuitous as the questioning continued. When asked whether a failure to train staff properly could be considered a breach, she replied that Serco was “required to undertake all the training we require them to do”, and listed Certificate 2 requirements for centre chefs and… guards.

Lynch-Magor told the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that DIAC had requested Serco prove their staff were properly trained “earlier this week”, and had received an immediate response. When Senator Hanson-Young asked the number of staff who “were asked to leave”, she was told that wasn’t information the department usually requested from… Serco.

“So the department doesn’t know how many untrained staff have been on the ground”¦ as of earlier this week?” the Senator… replied.

And more evidence this week of a culture in the Immigration Department which rather likes a system whereby private companies can allegedly take responsibility for vulnerable people and yet still stuff it up:

BARBARA MILLER: The report commissioned by the Department of Immigration found refugees were paying through the roof for accommodation that was in some cases wholly inadequate. The accommodation provider, Resolve FM, a subcontractor of Navitas, has been put on notice.

The findings came as no surprise to Sister Diana Santleben. She was one of a number of community members who raised allegations that refugees were being exploited and mistreated. Sister Diana says she constantly hears of and witnesses such cases.

DIANA SANTLEBEN: Daily, daily. I mean I have taken hundreds of tonnes of Navitas issue furniture to a rubbish tip and sourced from the people of Newcastle thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars worth in replacement furniture, all at our own expense.

You know I’m a pensioner, and we’ve done it voluntarily. Basically we’ve done Navitas’s job for them voluntarily for the past five years so that the refugees did not endure having no beds, for example, because the beds they were given only lasted a week or two.

BARBARA MILLER: Do you think this report goes far enough?

DIANA SANTLEBEN: No, no, no. The report basically is into Resolve FM and Resolve FM were a sub-contractor for Navitas. The report did not under its guidelines study the work of Navitas really.

BARBARA MILLER: So what do you think should happen?

DIANA SANTLEBEN: Well my personal opinion, if I had my way I would just dismiss Navitas.