Another blow has been dealt to the government’s controversial policy of offshore detention. Wilson Security and Connect Settlement Services have both announced that they will not be renewing their contracts for providing security and welfare services on Nauru. The news comes after Ferrovial (the parent company of Broadspectrum who subcontract to Wilson) decided in April not to renew their contract for Nauru.
These announcements have been made in the wake of the ruling in April by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court that the Manus Island detention centre is illegal, and, of course, the explosive Nauru Files that were released in August.
Following condemnations of offshore detention from various human rights groups and the negative publicity following the Nauru Files, the withdrawal of these companies means that the government’s authority in relation to offshore detention is severely diminished. Calls to bring the approximately 1200 refugees languishing in offshore detention centres to Australia are growing.
The thousands of leaked incident reports that make up the Nauru Files have no doubt had an influence on the decisions of these companies to withdraw from their contracts. While these corporations make millions of dollars in profits from offshore detention, they have had to weigh this against immense amounts of negative publicity and fears of possible future legal action.
The files revealed the abuse and deplorable conditions that refugees are forced to endure, and exposed the fact that the private sector are also culpable in destroying refugees’ lives.
In September, a world leaders’ summit on refugees was held in the US. Absurdly, this summit was seen by the Australian government as an opportunity to try and negotiate with a third country to take the refugees from Manus and Nauru instead of settling them in Australia.
Different sections of the establishment are now clearly worried about the future of Australia’s refugee regime, with World Vision CEO Tim Costello and other academics publishing an open letter in the Sydney Morning Herald that purported to have come up with a “solution” for the government: maintain the turn-backs but end offshore processing.
Socialists oppose the cruel policy of turning people back to the horrors from which they have fled; the real solution is community settlement, not mandatory detention. This is not only more humane but it is also immensely cheaper! The offshore detention regime costs taxpayers in excess of $1.2 billion every year.
Numerous polls have demonstrated that public support for offshore detention is diminishing. One of the latest, commissioned by refugee advocacy group Save the Children, showed that even in Malcolm Turnbull’s own electorate the opposition to indefinite detention is growing. We also saw an increase in attendance at refugee rights rallies across Australia in August.
Under pressure, a new Senate inquiry into the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees has been set up. While the inquiry is unlikely to lead to any real changes in and of itself, it can help to further expose the horrors in the offshore detention camps.
In many ways the government is on the back foot. The refugee movement needs to urgently capitalise on this as well as on the fact that there is growing support for refugee rights. As The Socialist has argued previously, we need to do more to draw in wider layers of working class people and to ensure that the protests have well defined targets.
Mass rallies are an important starting point, but we need to find ways of focusing the action where it can exert pressure, not only on the government, but on all those corporations that profit from the detention industry.
The withdrawal of Broadspectrum, Wilson and Connect has provided the refugee rights movement with an important opportunity. Any company that is even prepared to consider bidding for the contracts, particularly security contracts, on Nauru should now be a target for direct action and protests.
We need to demand that no more taxpayer money will be given over to those who profiteer from refugee misery. Instead the money wasted on offshore detention should be spent on providing jobs, housing, and social services such as education and healthcare to all, including refugees that have settled in the community.
By Kat Galea