The Baxter Detention Centre


Although more than enough is known about day-to-day life in Baxter Detention Centre, little is known about its construction, the cost of building and development of the site, the subcontractors, the unions involved, the computer facilities, the training of the personnel and so on.

To enter the world of the detention camp is to enter the dark and evil netherworld of the gulag; but these camps were built and designed by human hand. Someone, as it were, poured the concrete and supplied and installed the razor wire for the fences. Someone built the isolation cells and designed the computer system. In the last war, a worker put up the sign, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ at the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp.

George Wackenhut

George Wackenhut

Baxter Detention Centre was built by Thiess Constructions Proprietary Ltd, in partnership with Australasian Correctional Management P/L (ACM) – the partnership known as Australasian Correctional Services (ACS). ACM and Thiess were chosen by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, whose one-time minister was, as we all know, Philip Ruddock; and now it is Amanda Vanstone. (link here)

Thiess is a giant, home-grown construction firm, specializing in highways, airports, hospitals, public and private buildings, tunnels, bridges and telecommunications. It has contracts with every government in Australia – state and federal. Among its many projects is the building of privately owned prisons, or ‘correctional facilities’, as they are known. (link here)

Thiess has a 50 per cent stake in ACS, the other 50 per cent shareholder being ACM, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation of America. Wackenhut is the world’s largest private prison operator and responsible for the administration of the Baxter Detention Centre.

Wackenhut, or ACM, is responsible for the running of a number of privately owned prisons in Australia, including the Arthur Gorrie Remand Centre and the Capricornia Correctional Centre in Queensland, the Fulham Correctional Centre in Victoria, the Mount Gambier prison in South Australia and the Junee prison in New South Wales. Thiess also built the Capricornia prison, the Fulham Correctional Centre and the Junee prison.

Baxter Detention Camp is located on part of the site of the Australian Defence Force’s El Alamein Barracks and became operational in September 2002. Its replacement value is around $28 million. It is, as they say, a ‘state of the art’ facility. At 9 February 2005, the number of detainees at Baxter was 218 – according to the Department of Immigration. (The total number of people presently held in detention in Australia is 883 – again, according to the Department of Immigration.)

Working hand in glove with Wackenhut, is ADT Securitas – another American security company, specialising in electronic security and surveillance. ADT installed the electronic system at Junee prison. It is not known whether ADT have an interest in Baxter. But given their close ties to ACM, it is highly probable.

ACM is currently the largest provider of custodial correctional services in Australia. Until his death late last year at eighty-five, ACM’s founder, George Wackenhut, lived in Tyecliffe Castle in Florida, surrounded by battlement walls. The 57-room house on three acres comes with turrets, caves and grottoes, a movie theater, ‘throne’ toilet, wine cellar, three-story stone fireplace, gym, lagoon pool, tennis court, a pub called Tyde’s Tavern, formal gardens and dock.

Tyecliffe Castle

Tyecliffe Castle

In 1997, ACM was awarded by the federal government, the contract to police all the detention camps in Australia. In 2002, ACM’s profit from running Australian detention centres was around $8.5 million. The cost per day per person in running Baxter is $104 to $117, depending on how you do the sums – or $105 million per year.

Wackenhut manages fifty five private prisons and detention camps in over eight countries. Its favoured charity is the Save the Children Fund. In a TV interview on SBS in 2000, George Wackenhut said: ‘[Australia is] really starting to punish people as they should have done all along.’

The unions’ role in building Baxter (and the other detention camps) is very vague. But certainly the AWU must have been involved – not to mention the BLF. The AWU and the ACTU archives are not forthcoming; nor are the archives of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union; but the latter must be involved with supplying meals to the staff and inmates of Baxter and the other camps.

In September 2002, the AWU struck against ACM at Port Hedland Detention Centre (WA), the issue being low staffing levels and the manufacture of homemade weapons. There is no record of any strikes during the construction of Baxter, or any other of the detention camps.

Presumably, the building of the camps was a stimulus to the economy. The construction by Theiss of the correctional facility at Junee, NSW was welcomed by the townsfolk who were suffering ‘the pain of unemployment’. According to Thiess and the NSW Department of Corrective Services, ‘prisons are stable employers – they employ a large number of people, requiring a range of skills and are large consumers of goods and services, further stimulating the local economy’. No doubt, this applies to Baxter and the other detention centres – human rights and the treatment of the inmates is of little consequence.

It is not known who erected the fences and installed the razor wire at Baxter. But the Northern Group of North Narrabeen, NSW are experts in high security fencing and razor wire. They have done work for the Department of Immigration, installing a high security perimeter, chainwire fence at a detention centre in rural NSW. (link here).

The presence of detention camps in remote areas of Australia is, of course, highly disturbing – all the more so, when they are built and run by private companies. One’s mind automatically turns to the Nazi concentration camps and Stalin’s gulags. Furthermore, there is now the technology of electronic surveillance and isolation. Baxter and the other detention camps reach into the very heart of corporate and commercial Australia.

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