Transfield’s $1.2 billion contract to run the detention centres on Manus and Nauru is set to expire on October 31st 2015.
As a consequence, there is a great deal of maneuvering going on, most of it behind the scenes. Let’s be clear: for Transfield and rival bids, the stakes are billions of dollars in contracts — not people’s lives.
There are two things that arise as a result of the contract tender process:
First, Transfield are eager to look better to make more money. Transfield’s testimony at the recent Senate Inquiry revealed that they adopted a “human rights policy” in recent weeks. By some accounts, they did so after their last appearance before the Senate Inquiry. It is also likely that it has been the result of pressure on superannuation funds to divest, since those funds have for the most part opted to fend off calls to divest with platitudes about “engaging” with Transfield. To what end is conveniently left vague, but given all the evidence this has involved managing the risk of opposition to mandatory detention by delaying and undermining calls for divestment. In any case, the only significant question, the one that shapes all other questions for Transfield, is whether they can renew the contracts for Manus and Nauru.
Secondly, there are rival bids in the pipeline that want to make money. This means that, at present, various organisations (from companies to NGOs) are competing with Transfield for the tender to run Manus and Nauru detention centres. Moreover, Transfield are particularly eager to glean information regarding opponents (as is clear from their monitoring of social media), and rival bids are keen to compete by doing much the same.
Given this, we decided to make the following statement to clarify where we stand in relation to various maneuverings:
1. We are committed to ending mandatory detention. It is not our role to help other organisations to win the tender from Transfield, nor is it to help Transfield to secure an extension of their contracts by “engaging” with them about how they might tweak their public image and provide better spin. The language of “engagement” has been used now for more than a year by superannuation funds as a means to deflect and defer calls for divestment. Moreover, as to rival bids: we do not, for instance, support the efforts by Burnside and others to relocate detention centres to Tasmania and extend their function as the training camp of an indentured rural labour scheme. It is therefore not our aim to engage with companies in the detention industry to help improve the management of human rights in detention. No one would suggest that it should be a priority—or indeed the role—of anti-smoking activists to engage with tobacco companies to help them market ‘safer cigarettes.’ There are no nicer concentration camps. Every single report about detention centres—from those who are detained and often not believed, to those prepared by the Human Rights Commission and medical bodies—has clearly stated that detention damages people, is a form of torture and abuse, and contravenes a plethora of human rights.
2. It is because we want to see an end to mandatory detention that we have called for the boycotting of and divestment from the detention industry. It is on this basis that we have prepared independent advice for a range of groups as to the financial links and corporate arrangements of that industry. We have not shied away from pointing out the financial and corporate links between organisations (including organisations such as the unions of which some of us are members) involved in advocating for asylum seekers and the detention industry because not doing so would compromise and undermine our credibility in calling for divestment in other and all instances.
3. We have no interest in managing the reputational risk of the companies involved, or furnishing them with the means and information to mitigate the potential legal liabilities of their involvement in the detention industry. Those companies already have lawyers, accountants and PR staff to accomplish these functions on their behalf, and we would not invite these staff to shape a campaign to end mandatory detention, give them a platform within those campaigns, or offer them a means to manage their reputations or identify their risks. The Boards and management of these companies weigh those downside risks against the possible gains from billion dollar contracts. We are not an adjunct to corporations to help them solve the difficulties they find themselves in while making billions. We are part of a campaign to end mandatory detention. Our aim is not to shakedown companies or organisations for a piece of the detention industry pie. The objective of a divestment campaign is not to help corporations manage the downside risks of their involvement in the detention industry. The aim of a divestment campaign is to increase those downside risks to the companies so as to make that industry untenable. The structure of the ‘Detention Network’ involves an extraordinary degree of risk-shifting along its supply-chain, and we aim to shift all the downside risk away from people detained and onto those for whom the detention industry is a gain.
4. We are not therefore interested in cheaper options for detaining people any more than we are in supporting rival bids to furnish this. The soaring cost of detention is, in part, due to the ongoing opposition to mandatory detention by those who have been detained and those outside who oppose that system. May it cost the detention industry as much as it has cost the lives of those who are detained.
5. We do not advise people about which alternative superannuation funds to invest in for two reasons: first, we are not financial advisers and you should be wary of advice from anyone about where to put your savings (sometimes funds offer people commissions in-kind to get their “friends” to invest); secondly, individuals withdrawing from funds can soothe an individual conscience but the flow of large amounts of money (millions) continues unabated; thirdly, many funds claim to have ‘ethical options’ that are nevertheless part of the same fund, and continue financial support for detention on that basis. We aim to get funds to divest as a whole and completely.