Making sure Serco doesn’t soon run every aspect of Australian life

I’m still in Perth, Western Australia and I spent some time this afternoon with activists and union leaders discussing the state government’s move towards further privatisation of public services. This is an Australian-wide problem and a global issue. Campaigns are growing here against the imposition of Serco in many areas of life. A piece in yesterday’s West Australian newspaper highlights the importance of the struggle:

The Barnett Government is secretly planning to privatise a slab of the State’s judicial system in a move critics believe marks the takeover of justice by multinational corporations.

A leaked copy of a draft Bill reveals the Government wants to allow private companies to take over the management of prisoners who have been released from jail on parole or are awaiting trial.

Private contractors would enforce parole conditions, such as drug testing, attending rehabilitation programs and finding accommodation and work.

Part six of the Corrective Services Bill 2011 would allow companies such as Serco, which runs Acacia Prison and is bidding for the right to provide other Government services, to become major players in the State’s justice system.

The laws, which are outlined in a section of the Bill entitled Contracts for Community Services, have been condemned by the Community and Public Sector Union. Union secretary Toni Walkington said the move would compromise public safety as profit-driven companies would be put in charge of sometimes unstable criminals.

“We are alarmed that community corrections in any way, shape or form could be contracted out,” she said.

Shadow minister for corrective services Fran Logan said the Government was selling off “core” public services.

“These contracts are based on key performance indicators and making sure the right boxes are ticked,” he said. “It is not about rehabilitation of people who have been through the justice system.

“What are we going to have? Are we going to have Dog the Bounty Hunter here in WA, tracking people down who have skipped their parole?”

The British Government last year scrapped a contract with company Clearsprings after a 24-year-old man on bail for assault was beaten to death by two other inmates at one of the company’s properties.

Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman said the previous Labor government had begun work on the Bill.

“DCS have been working on this for years and the department has not flagged it as an immediate priority,” he said.

“I expect to be briefed on it in the coming months. Should the Bill be approved by myself and my colleagues, it will then be subject to robust debates and processes.”