9 Nov 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Our Contract With Serco

By Marni Cordell, Antony Loewenstein and Paul Farrell

Today NM publishes the contract signed between the Department of Immigration and Serco, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act

New Matilda has gained exclusive access to the first publicly available version of the 2009 Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) contract with British multinational Serco.

The contract was obtained through a Freedom of Information request and reveals the most comprehensive information yet about the running of Australian detention centres.

New Matilda's analysis of the document reveals that:

  •  General security guards can begin work with no formal security qualifications and are only required to obtain a Certificate II within six months of working with Serco.
  • Clinical depression, childbirth and voluntary starvation for under 24 hours are considered "minor" incidents while unauthorised media access is considered "critical".
  • Of these "minor" incidents, only 10 per cent are required to be audited internally by Serco.
  • There is no contractual requirement of an independent audit of Serco's management of detention centres.

The first 80 pages of the contract can be downloaded here. Links to the remaining sections can be found at the end of this article.

Other issues of note include:

  • Serco is obliged to provide phone services to people in detention but the contract specifies that mobile phone handsets "[must] not have a recording facility (either audio or visual)".
  • Serco must also "control and limit" detainees' internet access to pornography, FTP sites, and "prohibited sites in foreign languages". It is not specified which sites are prohibited and under what law.
  • If a member of the public complains or provides feedback about an immigration detention centre, Serco must notify the department within one day and provide a written response to the person within two weeks, "setting out the action taken of the reason why no action will be taken".
  • Serco is obliged to provide "tea, coffee, water and biscuits" when detainees have visitors and visiting areas must contain "hot/cold drinks and confectionery vending machines".
  • Serco must "not provide access to the Facility for media visits unless the visit has been approved by the Department" and must "ensure that media personnel only conduct activities approved by the Department".
  • Serco indemnifies DIAC from and against any loss arising from or as a consequence of any "death, or bodily injury, disease or illness (including mental illness) of any person including People in Detention" — this clause survives for a period of seven years following the expiration of the contract.

According to a letter from DIAC's FOI officer, Serco objects to DIAC's decision to release some parts of this contract and has exercised its rights under FOI law to block access to those sections in the document marked "s27 consultation".

View the FOI officer's decision and a full list of the documents that were blocked here.

However, New Matilda has also obtained a leaked copy of the contract in which some of these blocked sections are visible.

This version of the contract has not been officially released, and reveals:

  • The internal and external perimeter of the detention centres are only required to be checked by security guards twice a day; at the opening of the centre and before it's locked up.
  • Checks to ensure detainees are "present and safe" are only required to be conducted four times a day.
  • A carrot and stick system of "abatements" and "incentives" where Serco is fined for poor performance and rewarded with higher fees for good performance.

Read the leaked version of the contract here.

The fact that this contract has only been released now, more than two years after it was signed, reflects how closely guarded the agreement between Serco and the Federal Government remains.

Last week, Serco's Australian CEO Bob McGuiness told Perth Now that he was "gobsmacked" to hear Serco described as a "secretive organisation" in the media. "I find that astonishing," he said.

In fact, the contract prohibits Serco employees from speaking to the media at all. It reads:

"The Service Provider must not, and will ensure that its officers, employees, directors, contractors and agents do not:
Make any public statement;
Release any information to, make any statement to, deal with any inquiry from or otherwise advise the media;
Publish distribute or otherwise make available any information or material to third parties."

The hypocrisy of McGuiness's comments is also remarkable in light of Serco's attempts to block access to information that the DIAC FOI decision maker has argued should be public.

The Labor government and DIAC agreed to the terms of this contract. By privatising immigration detention centres, successive Australian governments have kept these issues out of sight and out of mind, under the pretence of information being "commercial-in-confidence". Bureaucratic buck-passing ensures little firm information is ever released.

Many parts of the contract have still not been released on the decision of DIAC's FOI officer — including the names of the Serco directors who manage relations with DIAC and run detention centres.

Read NM's extended coverage of the contract here and here.

Links to Serco contract (FOI version)

Volume 1, Part 1

Volume 1, Part 2

Volume 1, Part 3

Volume 1, Part 4

Volume 1, Part 5

Volume 1, Part 6

Volume 1, Part 7

Volume 2, Part 1

Volume 2, Part 2

Volume 2, Part 3

Volume 2, Part 4

Volume 2, Part 5

Volume 2, Part 6


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Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 13:50

Fascinating to read of visiting requirements- provisionn of tea, coffe etc.
Visited BITA- Brisbane immigration transit Accomodation on weeked.
Was required to wear Fluorescent vest and lanyard . Was luckier than others required to carry personal Alarm.
After listening to a spruik about action to take in emergency etc etc, I was escorted down narrow hall to a room with a glass door. The asylum seekers were escorted in and the guard sat and watched up for the visit.
This is in the so called step down detention- soft detention.
Presumably the asylum seekers are regarded as such a potential risk to a visitor that a guard is required at a 2 metre distance with line of sight at all times.
We are no longer allowed to take in food in case of food poisoning and SERCO is sued!!
EVEN packaged processed food has to be examined by "experts" in the kitchen.
Is it any wonder people are going crazy.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. NewsGooJake
Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 14:01

Excellent coverage, congrats to all concerned. Reason this contract has been drawn up in this cynical way, and used to hide the facts from the public by successive governments, is for sinister motives of political and social control.

Its survival despite a change of government indicts the institutional corruption of our political system.

Time for a mass casting of informal ballots - no choice? No vote?!

Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 16:01

This sounds like a set-up to re-run the Stanford experiment on a larger scale.

Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 16:14

What does anyone expect a contract to run a detention centre to say? Nothing to see here, to be honest. The contract has been written by the govt, if the govt was running a detention centre 'in-house' it would be pretty much the same, i.e. run under the same conditions. Everything in that contract is due to Chris Bowen's evil genius, plus the Howard govt's genius, plus the Keating govt's genius who created detention centres in the first place.

Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 16:26

Very good report, thanks a lot. For me, one of the main differences between a private contractor and a government operation is that the latter is accountable to Parliament and public scrutiny. The last paragraphs of the report are the most telling of all, in my view.

Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 16:55

Off and running again privatisation of detention centres, in it for the money bugger the people held in them.

Yes the detention centres are and have been privatised for Serco's greedy financial gain but some people have not learnt any lessons of how privatisation degrades the system.

These buffoons that have had no training and because they wear a uniform they think they are a cut above the rest of society, they are nothing short of being rejected car park attendants.

boy from the bush
Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 21:38

This is exactly the sort of journalism the media should be doing but isn't! Well done NM

con vaitsas
Posted Wednesday, November 9, 2011 - 22:29

The boy from the bush is spot on, this is great journalism, I hope more people get onto NEw Matilda and realise that investigative journalism is no longer belonging to the mainstream media but is and has been occurring for some time within the net on blogs and alternative media sites. In regards to SErco is anybody surprised that a contract between a private company and a level of govt whether it be federal or state would release a copy to the media/public for scrutiny? Again congrats to all concerned on this major article, I hope it wins an award for those involved in getting it out to the public.

Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 08:08

Sean, detention centres existed in Australia long before the Keating Government. The Dunera detainees, Jewish men who had escaped from Hitlers Germany, were kept in a camp in Hay. The fact that they had luxuries like shoes was entirely down to the public, particularly the women in the community. Clearly access was allowed then. Access was also given for entertainment which allowed my Mother, a member of the WAAF, to meet my Father, a refugee. This simply wouldn't happen now.

Frank from Frankston
Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 11:11

Congratulations Marni and co on your scoop!

Frank from Frankston
Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 11:16

The "need" for a Serco style contract is based on a failure of policy. The same failure of policy that has drowned hundreds of innocents at sea.
Fix the policy! Resign Australia from any international conventions that make people smuggling a business and detention camps a "necessity".
Repatriate any Indonesian sourced boat person back to Indonesia.
Bribe them if you have to.
Just do it.
Lifeboats, GPS, Autopilots. It couldn't be that hard?

Dr Dog
Posted Friday, November 11, 2011 - 10:01

Well done NM! I look forward to the after effects of the publication of this contract, here and hopefully in other media.

Posted Friday, November 11, 2011 - 13:00

Antony, Marni, Paul, thanks for exposing the truth!
DIAC, the Government, and Serco appear hypocritical,
authoritarian, and gratuitously secretive.
Today privatising jails for unprocessed migrants,
tomorrow privatising jails for accepted residents.
It's a mistake to privatize any policing force, anywhere,
because it reduces public awareness of the truth of the situation,
by allowing the multi-level bureacracy to hide many problems.
But isn't that why LP and ALP choose privatization?
We can and should:
Re-nationalize (un-privatize? publicize?) this department,
Show accountability, by allowing journalistic and NGO access anytime.

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 13:01

On the other hand, Olivier, the ongoing monopolistic system of complete public sector delivery of services has its own pathologies, including headcount and salary bloat, massive unnecessary public expense and waste (taken from your taxpayers dollars, rates, fines, stamp duties, etc), nepotism, pathological management structures, and often outright corruption. Every year every govt branch and dept wastefully squanders the balance of its budget on trifles so that it won't be taken aaway the next year.

Many state govts in Australia have already outsourced the running of their prisons to a competitive tendering private sector. In the process of bidding and taking over, the private sector operators eliminate entrenched overtime rorts set up by guards, sadists, corrupt guards, and disrupt established drug and contraband channels. The incoming service provider has to compete for contract renewals every 3 or 5 years with other keen tenderers. An ethos of enthusiasm, reform and continuous improvement is therefore encouraged and brought in by the companies to remain competitive. The profit motive means that costs are contained by the company, inefficiency and the public sector mentality are not rewarded. Good ideas are rewarded. That's why the government outsources.

There's no point being a misery guts about everything all the time, especially when the real world outcomes aren't particularly well understood.

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 18:54

What you say is all very nice theoretically. But I think the fact of this article exposes that privatisation and market forces do not necessarily produce "enthusiasm, reform and continuous improvement". I don't know the hard data to say with any certainty that currently these forces don't even usually provide for these things... but I certainly suspect that your absolute faith and belief in the benevolence of the market doesn't work all its beautiful theory in practice.

And neither do government-run services inherently breed corruption.

The key to ensuring ongoing effectiveness of any administrative undertaking must surely be transparency.

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 20:48

EveGu, I don't have absolute faith and belief in the benevolence of the market, but the competitive tendering model is definitely a viable model of govt service delivery due to the innate competitive pressures and profit motive to keep costs low. This also prevents the monopolistic behaviour and corrupt channels of govt processes taking root in some cases.

There's plenty of corruption going on in govt all the time, just look at the 10% or so that's actually uncovered and appears in the papers.

The things I'm talking about are not theory, they're put into practice every day around the world, possibly much more than you realise.

Having a belief in 'transparency' is a far more theoretical thing than successful outsourced contracts, to be honest. 'Transparency' is just a word used by Tony Abbott when criticising the govt which he is not at all interested in when in power.

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 22:47

The latest debacle with Privatisation, Qantas should make us all sit up.

Telstra and the 3 Mexicans, what a Joke.

Gio and the Green slips not to mention the out of control Health Insurance Prices.

Private Public partnerships on Freeways are a Joke

The price of Petrol ever since Ampol vanished.

RTA, Post Office, Rail went stupid then a train fell of the tracks.

Centrelink and all those stupid Job Search mobs, what a Joke.

What did the Australian Tax payer get and what has all of this cost us.

Serco is just one of a number of failings in the Privatisation, Economic Rationalisation Bull given to us by Thatcher, Reagan and Hilmer.

Wake up Aust. we have been fooled again.

Its time we had the Privatisation debate, especialy when it comes to Private profit and socialising Debt.
Bailing out Banks etc.

Is Privatisation really better and if so for whom.
I say, not for Australian Tax Payers.

Posted Saturday, November 12, 2011 - 23:00


Your being a bit loose with the truth.

Corruption has been around since for ever.

Corruption in Government Departments happens when there is a tender process with the Privates.

Wollongong Council, Developers etc.
Rail, cleaning contracts for trains etc.

One of the biggest Corruption cases was in the U.S where Privates sold the Governments own Military oil reserves back to the Government at over inflated prices. Now thats corruption.

We, even Privatised the Transport side of the Military, how bizzare is that.
How do you think the Military lost all that money.

Posted Sunday, November 13, 2011 - 01:36

I absolutely agree with you - a privatising tender model has "a profit motive to keep costs low". This is how Serco is operating. It is how corporations go profit-chasing, at the expense of things that actually matter - like mental wellbeing of its workers and consumers, and the sustainable use of environmental resources. So Serco was engaging in a "competitive" tender process with our so-called government? Why do I have the impression that there were deals done and hands shook behind closed doors, you scratch my back and I scratch yours? I must be imagining things.

Okay, so you've said "in some cases" now, in relation to governmental corruption. There's no denying governments can be corrupt. That's why protection systems are in place, like the Ombudsman's office in Australia. Which Labor and Liberal have pressured Asher out of office for, as great reward for his diligent if slightly desperate effort to oversee the running of our detention centre system. And isn't it going so well? This is what you call "a viable model"?

There are "corrupt channels of government processes" here. The free market is not helping. In this case, they are intimately complicit.

Yes, I'm sure capitalist theory is put into practice every day, "possibly much more than I realise". Is this a good thing? Jackal has kindly provided a few examples of how privatisation is affecting our lives. Perhaps you'd care to pick any one of these to discuss further. It's always nice to work with hard data, as long as it's not cherry-picked. Of course, feel free to raise any other facts supporting your claim, I'm ready to learn what great benefits privatisation and economic liberalism continues to bring to the majority of the population.

And transparency is "theoretical"? It seems that you are playing at switching around words here. But I'd have to say, Wilde does a much better job. Tony Abbott doesn't say anything worth listening to, so let's not quote him in any seriousness. I'm quite interested to know in what way you construe transparency so as to deny its possibility of existence.

Posted Sunday, November 13, 2011 - 06:57

Sean, go and read a great Book.
"Globalization, Global Justice and Social Work"
and read what has happened to our Social Systems when we Privatised for "Wealth Creation."

Read what it says about "Cracks in the Neo Liberal consensus" on page 208?

The rest must be Targeted, means tested and kept to a minimum of provision lest the burden threatens,
"Wealth Creation"
They must remain consumers of food at all cost, but they must not be allowed to see that they are a burden to wealth creation or more correctly, hamper the Governments ability to channel Tax money towards "Wealth Creation." Why hamper.
77% of all Australians earn their money from the Tax payer in some way or form. Nurse 100%, Butcher who sells to the Nurse between 10 and 80% depending on how many Government payed people buy his products.
Infastructure Companies and their employees like Serco earn 100% of their wealth from the Tax payer.
Only 36% of Australians are in full time Employment and paying Taxes full time.
A lot of these people get 100% of their income of the Tax payer and pay 33% Tax back through their income Tax. So the Tax System is actualy in Deficit, so where does the Government get the short fall. The mining Taxes/Royalties, selling OUR Resources overseas.

People just don't realize how corrosive of our once great society this Privatisation, Dog Eat Dog World, has become.

Yes, they Parade their over rated, Glamourised, Marilyn Monroe's with their Platex support Bra's and Panty Girdle's, who are in fact nothing but Obese Bimbo Junkies to make this Capitalist System look good. Then try and hide the fact that she died from a Cocaine Enema with a 2" hose up her rear.

Its great when you are now the Footballer who drives around in a 350 Thousand Dollar sports car.

Or the Guy that now lives on the North Shore because his Company now makes the Number Plates that our Inmates in our Jails used to make to pay for their incarceration which the Tax Payer now has to do at great cost.

This cost to Society became Transparent because Jails were Government Dept., so they try to Privatise the Jails to hide the true costs, until they too become the next Qantas or Telstra Saga because the CEO opens all the Jails, lets murderers out onto the street because the Profits are not coming or as great as they wanted.

There is a lot more to this Qantas thing, it goes much deeper, it goes to the root of Globilisation, Privatisation. The warning bells should be ringing, but the Media is too stupid to ask those fundamental questions.

What was and is Economics for, the individual and/or society

Go to http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse
view the 20 odd power Point Presentations.

Trade between Villages was the first form of Business, but because the Barter system was not very efficient at trading goods, a form of trading currency was necessary.
The world had no problems while we used Gold, it is when we created Currencies and gave Banks the right to lend money into existence, that we began to fail and our inflation crises showed its ugly head.

The world began to fail many years ago and its the Harvard Business Model thats Failing, Nixon, Reagan and Thatcher put the final nails in our worlds coffin.

We must take Industrialization into the equation and how it caused the population explosion that has now reached 7 Billion, if these have 2 Children each
they become 14 billion, give and take, birth losses and old age deaths.

All of these people want Jobs, Cars and Women or Man and the right to Pollute the planet.

Posted Friday, November 18, 2011 - 22:53

Jackal, good on you. absolutely good on you for knowing, for learning, for knowing all this and more. :)

Posted Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 00:41

thank you for a powerful series of pieces of investigative journalism. much appreciated.