Labor breaks detention promise
Jewel Topsfield, The Age.
January 20, 2009
CONTROVERSIAL prison operator G4S will have its contract to run Australia's immigration detention centres extended until at least July 31 despite Labor's pre-election promise that the public sector would manage the centres.
And detention centres will remain in private hands for several years after the Government confirmed it would proceed with the retendering process started by the Howard government.
In 2006 the former government announced it would not extend G4S's $300 million contract when it expired at the end of 2007, and all detention services would be retendered.Labor criticised the decision and said the contract with G4S (formerly GSL) should be terminated and the centres returned to government control so there was a clear line of responsibility back to the minister.
"This is the private company that has people coming in the doors with no mental health problems and going out as broken human beings," then Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke said.
"There is one answer and one answer alone, and that is there have been enough breaches of this contract for the government to take action to terminate the privatisation of our detention centres. It was a bad idea from the start. It should not have taken place. It should not be continued."
The ALP's 2007 platform also stated that the public sector would manage the detention centres.
But The Age has learnt that G4S's contract has been extended until July 31, with the contract allowing for further extensions if necessary.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the retendering was well advanced when the Rudd Government came into office and the lack of alternative public-service providers would have required the current contract to be extended for at least two years anyway.
"After weighing up all the issues and costs, and giving detailed and serious consideration to the options available, the Government has determined the most prudent way forward is to finalise the current tender process," he said. The successful tenderer will be announced within six months.
Senator Evans said policy on managing detention centres would be reviewed at the end of the new contract."We will impose higher standards on the detention services contractors and the department will be monitoring the contract more closely than before," he said. "It is a question of the values that apply rather than who applies them."
When G4S began running detention centres in 2003, critics claimed it introduced a punitive regime, including solitary confinement.The company was fined $500,000 in 2005 after staff refused detainees food, water and access to a toilet on a seven-hour bus trip between the Maribyrnong and Baxter detention centres.
But in his annual report on detention centres, Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes said staff attitudes, services and activities in the centres had generally improved in the past few years.