You Know Your Campaign Is Working When Peter Dutton Calls You "Fringe"

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A group of activists, lawyers, unionists and church groups causing increasing headaches for immigration detention contractor Transfield Services say they are prepared to kick on with the fight despite the ‘real risk’ of legal action being launched against them.

The group, which has taken the name No Business in Abuse, has seen a coalition of refugee action and support groups come together to heap pressure on the lead contractor in Australia’s offshore detention facilities by trying to ensure there are broader business ramifications for those who partake in the detention network.

Shen Narayanasamy, Executive Director of No Business in Abuse – who is also the Human Rights Campaign Director at GetUp! – said the campaign was seeking to “dry up” Transfield’s opportunities for expansion by signing individuals and businesses up to a pledge not to work with businesses that profit from the detention industry.

“We’re not only talking to people about a particular company, we’re talking about the values basis on which detention is currently enshrined, which is based on the human rights abuses of vulnerable people,” Narayanasamy said.

As the lead contractor for the Australian funded detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island, Transfield has already faced a separate campaign of divestments, with major super fund HESTA pulling the plug last month.

No Business in Abuse’s campaign shifts the focus to future projects, trying to encourage those working in other sectors where Transfield provides services – including health care, schools, and hospitals – not to do business with the company.

Transfield, evidently shaken by both the divestment and No Abuse campaigns, has issued a nine-page document to investors defending its human rights record and practices.

“The company is committed to the highest standards of probity and transparency in its operations globally,” a spokesperson told New Matilda.

“We agree there should be zero tolerance for abuse; the welfare and wellbeing of asylum seekers is paramount; and human rights are fundamental rights, freedoms and standard of treatment to which all people are entitled.”

The company’s zeal for transparency was less apparent at a recent Senate Inquiry into its Nauru detention centre, with senior executives forced to come before the Committee for a second time after taking scores of questions on notice.

Transfield staff go before the Senate Inquiry.

The independent Moss Review found credible evidence of sexual assaults in the centre, and that guards were trading drugs for sexual favours from detainees.

Documents lodged with the Senate Inquiry revealed allegations of sexual assault and abuse have continued to be filed by asylum seekers since the completion of the Moss Review.

In its own response to Transfield’s response, No Business in Abuse criticised the company for failing to disclose the damming findings of human rights groups, including the United Nations, about the state of offshore detention centres.

Earlier this year Human Rights Watch and the Melbourne based Human Rights Law Centre visited Manus Island but were barred from inspecting the actual detention centre.

While Transfield has been announced as the preferred tenderer for a new five year contract for welfare and garrison services on Manus and Nauru by the Department of Immigration, Narayanasamy said the company had not yet signed the contract. She said now was a key period for the campaign.

“We are predicting [Transfield] will attempt to take as strong a response as possible. And we’re ready for it.”

“What’s important to note here is the prospect of legal action by the company is real and that’s the reason why we have taken so long to go public,” Narayanasamy said.

She said the prospect of taking on both the Federal Government and a major corporation had made it difficult to find partners for the campaign, and praised GetUp! in particular for coming on board.

Narayanasamy and the No Abuse group have already been labelled “fringe” by the Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton, but Waleed Mussa, one of the campaign’s Directors, said it was the Minister’s ideas that were fringe.

“There’s been a big element of trying to marginalise our concerns and that’s part of the strategy of offshore detention; [keeping]secrecy [around]what happens there, tyring not to shine a light on these issues,” he said. “Hopefully the success of this campaign and what’s to come will show this does matter to people. I’ll be glad to prove him wrong.”

The Minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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