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Publicised Cruelty: Scott Morrison Visits Christmas Island

His visit struck a sour note. The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison was making an effort to show he cared: about those intangible things called borders, secure firm and shut to the unwanted human matter coming by sea. The distant Australian territory of Christmas Island was selected to assist in coping with arrivals from Manus and Nauru Island needing medical treatment. Having lost the vote in parliament on preventing the move, the Morrison government has done its best to ensure that a cruel element remains.

During the visit, Morrison rationalised the re-opening as the fault of the opposition. “As Prime Minister, I closed the Christmas Island detention centre and got all the children off Nauru.” The Labor Party had “voted to weaken our borders and we have acted on official advice to reopen Christmas Island.” The facilities provided “a deterrent to people smugglers and to anyone who thinks they can game the system to get to Australia.” The mythology persists.

There are parallels with atrocity and jail tourism (fancy seeing concentration camps?) in a man being filmed going through such facilities, though this time, they are intended for full use rather than being a site for instructive purposes or moral outrage. Should Australians ever wake up to the full implications of what their government does in their name, such camps might become appropriate measures of a gulag mentality that paralysed any sensible discourse on refugees for a generation.

Being a man obsessed by the moving image (once and adman always an adman), Morrison ensured that cameras never left their focus; the prime minister was keen to push the credentials of the North West Point Detention Centre. He made a pit stop at a library. (Cue necessary movement of arms to bookshelves; expansive hand movements). He even found himself gazing at a lavatory. “It was short,” recalled a disgusted resident, John Richardson. Small businessman Troy Watson was also a touch bitter. “It’s got be some sort of publicity stunt.”

And stunt it is. It belies the fact that Australia is facing, under its current Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, a record number of asylum seekers who are entering as tourists and economise on their status. They simply prefer to do so by that more approved mode of transport: the plane. As former Department of Immigration official Abul Rizvi points out with sharp relevance, “People arriving on visitor visas and changing their status onshore constituted an astonishing 24 percent of net migration in 2017-8, the mark of a visa system out of control.” Dutton, he charges, has no genuine immigration or refugee policy to speak of.

The re-conversion of Christmas Island into a detention centre has also provided some encouragement to locals. With refugee arrivals comes a market, an opportunity to expending cash. Human cargo can have its value: increased number of personnel, more individuals to clothe and feed on the island, more, for want of a better term, services, however poor. As Watson had to concede, “The economy on Christmas Island has been low for a good 12 months now, all local businesses including our own have certainly suffered.”

The company providing such services Serco, is a UK-based security outfit that deserves being reviled. Self-touted as adept in taking over outsourced services, the company specialises in running defence, health, transport, justice and immigration, and “citizen services”. Forty percent of its work comes from the UK, with about half that share drawn from Australia, where it is involved in some 11 Australian immigration detention centres.

Lodged in the trove of corporate devilry known as the Paradise Papers is an assessment by a Mauritius-based law firm Appleby which regards the company as replete with “problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”. This, it’s fair to say, comes with the troubled territory and again reminds us that privatising the swathe of public sector services does much to drain rather than save the treasury. It also serves to corrupt the delivery of such services. Again, deterrence comes before quality; harshness before vision.

The legal firm in question furnishes eager corporate watchers with a spicy note: in 2013, Serco was exposed, along with another charming counterpart, G4S, for overcharging the public purse by millions in the field of electronic tagging. His delightful resume leads to the inevitable conclusion: the company is a “high risk” client that leaves more problems than solutions.

Despite such a patchy record, the company’s 2017 annual report is bright and confident, though concedes the following: “governments have become much more skilled at contracting and focused on risk-transfer; as a consequence margins and risk-adjusted returns earned by many suppliers to governments are much lower today than they were ten years ago”. Not to be discouraged, the report picks up with the confident assertion that “the world still needs prisons, will need to manage immigration, and provide healthcare and transport, and that these services will be highly people-intensive for decades to come.” Crudely and abysmally, the company might just be right, awaiting the commencement of the Christmas Island contract with mawkish eagerness.

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7 comments

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  1. ROY EDWARDS

    I LOVE the way SCAT was pointing in one photograph, as if to say, “Over THERE is the sea. That is where we must look for ships”. The dude with his hands on his hips is classic……saying “I am SO EMBARRASSED to be standing here with this clown, let alone PHOTOGRAPHED WITH HIM”.

  2. New England Cocky

    Serco is a dodgy foreign owned corporation? Then there must be an Australian Liarbral Notional$ misgovernment.

  3. Ill fares the land

    Serco’s greatest skill, for those who have some inkling of what it does in the UK, is as a gouger of government funding. End of story. It is a master of padding costs that governments happily pay because it means the government is not itself running a detention centre. Another, albeit distasteful, example of the privatisation of services.

    The Christmas Island stunt was typical of Morrison and the limitations imposed upon him by his most average of intellects and his simpleton, out-of-his-depth ad-man approach to every problem. In his deluded self perception, he is a genius and all he needs to do is turn up, be filmed speaking his “profound” message to Australians with nodding sycophants in the background (does he have a remote to get them to nod at the right moment?) and his message will sell itself. Unfortunately, he was not a success as an ad-man either and he is perhaps now being seen for what he is – a blundering fool who only delivers ham-fisted strategies designed to make Bill Shorten look bad. Thankfully, most recent polls suggest that his efforts are presently futile and will likely continue to be – unless and until a refugee boat arrives. Then it will be a free-for-all!

  4. AllieAnnie

    Disgusting distasteful distraction by a nasty numbskull of a PM.

    And Serco?
    How is it possible for such a money-grubbing organisation to be paid to take over the important Public Service for the most vulnerable of citizens that is Centrelink?
    Unbelievable?

    We are a cruel nation who treat those who ask for help whether as Asylum Seekers, or disabled, sole parents or unemployed like they are flotsam and rubbish below contempt.
    We are following in the most vile and heartless of humans who vilified and reviled desperate peoples on leaky boats.
    And remember, what they try on those ‘others’ they will visit upon their own vulnerable. Robodebt is but a trial as is Cashless Welfare Card.

    DO not vote against your own care.
    Realise that soon it could be you.

    Vote these nasty Conservative Corporate Capitalists out. Keeping them in power is nothing but asking for trouble and hurting your fellow humans and fellow citizens.

  5. ChristopherJ

    Thank you, Binoy. To Allie, they will be voted out, but the assault on welfare aussies will continue under labor. They hate the bludgers as much as the other side.

    They’ve also been known to outsource public services. Much more convenient and arms length when you have delicate matters like detaining overseas arrivals.

    Funny how much differently we treat people who arrive on a tourist visa and then apply for asylum. They don’t get detained at all. Maybe its a cost thingy, eh? Does seem to cost a lot for each detainee. Cheaper to give them a million to go back home

    Change will require Aussies to protest, and that ain’t gonna happen in big numbers

  6. Bronte ALLAN

    Why does Slo Mo think the Labor party has “weakened our borders”? For fucks sake they are not in power idiot! However, when (if!) they do get elected, I am sure they will attempt to right the wrongs of this bunch of lying morons called the “liberal/national party? It may take some time as they will be attempting to right all the wrongs the liberal mob has inflicted on this country since they have been in “charge” (I use this term loosely!). At least with the Labor lot in power the working class, people on Welfare, the unemployed & the Pensioners may well get a better “deal” than this mob of right wing, climate change denying, obscenely over-paid so-called politicians have taken great pains to inflict upon all Australians. Another fine article Dr Kampmark! As for Slo Mo’s money & time wasting PR stunt to visit Christmas Island, what can we say? Just typical & a bloody expensive waste of time! Then again, what else can we expect?

  7. Uta Hannemann

    https://corporatewatch.org/serco-company-profile-2018/
    Our government pays for the services of a company like Serco? Is this the best solution to give taxpayers’ money to a UK company like Serco?
    If the government is unable to provide the needed services and the services need to be privatised, can they not at least provide an Australian company with a contract for services? I do not understand why everything has to be privatised in the first place.

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