Human rights abuser becomes Chris Evans' preferred tenderer to run detention centres

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Human rights abuser becomes Chris Evans' preferred tenderer to run detention centres

Media Release
Wednesday April 2, 2009 11:30am WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

"The news as announced by the Immigration department two days ago, and reported by Crikey today (see below), that Serco Australia has become Australia's preferred tenderer to operate Australia's detention centres for the next five years, should be greeted with great concern by all human rights advocates," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.

"This news does not just confirm that the Rudd government has now completed its reversal where the ALP has clearly, loudly and repeatedly stated whilst in opposition that it would return the running of Australia's Immigration detention centres to the Australian public service, but also that it either has manipulated up to 60 service organisations with which it consulted about this process, or that the representatives of these organisations have sat on their hands while being consulted by the Departmental consultative committees, or that they have become co-opted by the Immigration Minister," spokesman Jack H Smit said.

"Nobody in these organisations have blown the whistle on these plans of the Minister and his department, while this development is clearly in breach of stated ALP policies, and we have not gained any information about organisations having walked out of these consultative meetings that went on since the Rudd government came to power."

"The consultative process that was started by the Immigration Department has now obviously developed into a farce of complicity and co-option, where the Department and the Minister do exactly as they please, while reporting to the Australian public that it has engaged in an accountable process of wide consultation."

"The Department and the Minister should not go ahead with recruiting this company. Replacing the lethal Wackenhut Corporation, under whose governance more than a dozen people who were under their care while they ran Immigration detention and prison transport services in Australia, have died, in many cases preventable deaths, with another company that's clearly under heavy clouds following deaths and human rights abuses, just perpetuates the abysmal nature that comes with locking up refugees and asylum seekers."

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]

Prison cost-cutter set to run migrant detention

Wednesday April 2, 2009

Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes:

An international services company that has attracted extensive criticism of its human rights record is likely to be awarded the new contract to operate immigration detention centres by the Rudd Government. The company has also been criticised by the ALP itself over its industrial relations track record. Serco Australia [1], owned by UK services giant Serco, is currently negotiating with the Department of Immigration to finalise a five year contract commencing later this year.

Labelled "the biggest company you've never heard of", Serco has ridden the privatisation boom in the UK, North America and Australia through a model of underbidding and cost-cutting. It operates prisons and detention centres in the UK and Western Australia and immigration detention facilities around the world, as part of an extensive services portfolio. Its UK activities [2] have drawn extensive criticism.

In 2004, a 14 year-old boy died [3] in a Serco-run children's prison some hours after being subjected to "nose distraction technique", a "pain compliance technique" that formed part of the prison's inmate control regime. The incident led to a review of restraint methods and the banning of the technique in late 2007. At an adult facility in Scotland run by Serco, a prisoner died of meningitis despite repeated pleas for medical assistance. The facility has a higher than average rate of deaths in custody. At another facility, prisoners are required to sleep in toilets in conditions described by the UK Prisons Inspectorate as "squalid".

Serco's operation of the Colnbrook detention centre has been criticised by the Inspectorate for "struggling to cope" and decreasingly safe. An inmate's suicide has been blamed on the lack of medical support from Serco. Serco also operates medical services [4] in the UK that have undercut competitors, reduced services and failed to meet benchmarks, with Serco in one instance forced to fly doctors in from Eastern Europe because local GPs refused to work for it.

Serco subsidiaries have also drawn criticism closer to home. In late 2006, ALP Senator Kate Lundy drew attention [5] to attempts by Serco Sodexho, which had won the Canberra Defence services contract, to use duress to force employees to sign AWAs. Trade unions also attacked [6] Serco Sodexho for sacking cleaners in the Defence for refusing to sign AWAs. The company brought cleaners in from Wollongong rather than employ workers under a collective agreement. Serco has taken a similar approach before [7] to non-military defence employees.

The group is represented in Canberra by lobbyist heavy hitters GRA [8].

The Immigration Department says the tender process has been conducted appropriately. "The Department developed the tender process in consultation with the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman's Office and the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees," Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan told Crikey.

They provided input on the range, nature and extent of the performance specifications so that the procurement process focussed on the needs of detainees. That will be built into the service model and performance indicators and be closely monitored by the Department. We expect Serco would draw on its international experience in providing these services, if successful.

A spokeswoman for Serco said the company's human rights record was impeccable and had been borne out in reports by UK Prisons Inspectorate.

"We are committed to caring for detainees with decency and respect. We are particularly excited by the Australian Government's desire to see the new Service Delivery Model introduced -- a new client centred culture for immigration detention in Australia."


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