The companies that have been managing the refugee detention centres and their security on behalf of the Australian Government could be sued for compensation running to millions of dollars given their role in the illegal detention of those refugees and the physical and mental harm inflicted on them. Already the Australian Government is facing court action for compensation in Papua New Guinea, where the Manus Island detention facility has been declared illgal (and in contravention of internationally agreed norms of human rights). Similar legal action could be pursued on behalf of refugees illegally detained on Nauru. Currently the Australian Government is also facing charges of Crimes Against Humanity in the Australian High Court. All this is proof that the Australian Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’ is fast unravelling. Whether or not the PNG or Australian legal cases find against the Australian Government, separate legal cases could be lodged soon against Wilson Security (who have been accused of multiple abuses re the refugee centres – see below) and Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield), which managed the centres and which has been bought out by Ferrovial (which will be liable to any compensation payments levied). The governments of Nauru and PNG may also be subject to litigation (as also any other security companies, such as Serco or G4S, appointed to takeover from Ferrovial).
Latest: Australian Government has again contravened 1951 Refugee Convention re non-refoulement by flying back to Sri Lanka a group of asylum-seekers who arrived by boat on the Cocos Islands.
A. Why these companies can be sued
During Broadspectrum’s contract period there were a documented 300 cases of children committing or threatening self-harm, 67 cases of child abuse, 33 cases of rape or sexual assault of asylum seekers, 200 cases of assault and 30 cases of abuse against Australian staff – and that’s just on Nauru.
Broadspectrum’s sub-contractor – Wilson Security – were additionally accused of handcuffing children and assaulting asylum seekers and much, much more. A Senate report into abuse at the Nauru asylum-seeker detention centre made grim reading, providing evidence that could be used against Broadspectrum and/or Wilson Security as part of the gulag supply-chain.
In purely business terms, the detention centres can be characterised as the end ‘product’ in a supply-chain of what many would argue is illegal activity that begins with the Australian Navy & Customs highjacking boats on the open seas, kidnapping their passengers, then imprisoning them on the gulag. As such, Broadspectrum and Wilson Security share responsibility for what has happened (the latter company has already admitted to scores of cases of abuse).
And let’s not forget that the Australian Senate Committee that conducted the Inquiry into abuse at Nauru detention centre found that Australia – not Nauru – is legally responsible for the abuses in the detention centre, because it has “effective control” of it. Quote: “Australia created the regional processing centre in Nauru. It is Australia’s responsibility and in its present form, it is insupportable.”
B. The legal contraventions
While asylum seekers and refugees are in Australian territory or under Australian jurisdiction, the Australian Government has obligations regarding several international treaties to ensure human rights are respected and protected. These treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
These rights include the right not to be arbitrarily detained. As a party to the Refugee Convention, Australia also agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement. Australia also has obligations not to return people who face a real risk of violation of certain human rights under the ICCPR, the CAT and the CRC, and not to send people to third countries where they would face a real risk of violation of their human rights under these instruments. These obligations also apply to people who have not been found to be refugees. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) articles 6 & 7, Australia also has an obligation not to send someone to a place where their life may be in danger or where they may be subject to cruelty or inhumane treatment. If it is shown that asylum-seekers are subjected to cruelty or inhumane treatment at Nauru or Manus Island then the Australian Government would be in breach of the convention and that would have an impact on the supply chain (Broadspectrum etc).
In March last year the United Nations Special Rapportuer on Torture found that various aspects of Australia’s asylum seeker policies violated the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The findings from the Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, were formally submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. The UN report found that Australia’s indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island, the harsh conditions, the frequent unrest and violence inside the centre and the failure to protect certain vulnerable individuals all amount to breaches of the Convention. The report also found that the recent amendments to the Maritime Powers Act, which give the Government unprecedented powers to detain and return asylum seekers intercepted at sea, violates the Convention.
“Under international law, Australia can’t lock people up incommunicado on a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Nor can we return people to a place where they face the risk of being tortured. Yet these are precisely the powers the Government has sought to give itself through recent amendments to its maritime law,” commented Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC).
Rachel Ball, director of advocacy at the HRLC, said Broadspectrum also had obligations under the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to respect international human rights standards. She said: “The company cannot evade responsibility simply because the violations are sanctioned by the Australian Government”.
C. The moral case
Broadspectrum’s multi-million dollar empire includes an array of subsidary companies that touch the lives of every Australian (and there are the odd overseas assets too). From the water you drink, from the planes you fly in, from the sports venues you attend, from the buildings and offices you work in, from the public transport services you rely on, from the roads you drive on, from the bush walks you go on, from the malls you shop in, from the aged care facilities you will eventually turn to… your life is linked to the corporate survival of Broadspectrum. Thus, every day you breathe you are unconsciously helping Broadspectrum inflict suffering upon those asylum-seekers whose only wish has been to escape oppression.
Every Australian, whether they like it or not, is inextricably linked to every physical abuse, every murder, every rape, and every assault on these asylum-seekers. And in standing by and doing nothing, Australians give permission to their Government to continue with its illegal offshore detention policy.
But this illegal activity would not be possible without the collusion of Broadspectrum and its sub-contractor Wilson Security. Think of it this way: if the Australian Government, in enacting its illegal offshore processing policy, is guilty of crimes against humanity, then Broadspecrum and its subsidiaries – see Appendix – are the Government’s IG Farben.
Remember, too, the Nuremberg Principles are very much alive and well – ignore them and you are morally guilty too.
- Australian Govt washes hands over sexual/physical abuse of refugee children
- Australian Govt under siege as more damning evidence of refugee detention centre emerges
- Nauru refugee detention centre & child sex abuse: Inquiry testimony damning
- Unravelling Transfield’s financial web
- UN submissions slam Australia’s asylum-seekers program: extracts from report
Appendix: Companies that form Broadpectrum (formerly Broadspectrum) – now part of Ferrovial:
Transfield Services employs more than 19,000 people across 18 industries and 10 countries and is a global provider of operations, maintenance and construction services to the resources, energy, industrial, infrastructure, property and defence sectors. Transfield Services also covers water provision, telecommunications, roads, rail systems, defence systems and, of course, detention management. Transfield Services partners with Defence on the Estate Maintenance and Operations Services, National Aircraft Refueling, Rescue & Fire Fighting and Retail Stores and Petrol, Oils and Lubricants Services contracts. Transfield Services provides maintenance services to land-based assets, such as military vehicles and general equipment, as part of the Land Material Maintenance contract; corrosion protection services for the Australian Navy’s six Collins Class Submarines; and blast and paint work for ASC Pty Ltd as part of the construction of the Air Warfare Destroyers. www.transfieldservices.com/
APP Corporation is a subsidiary of Transfield and provides a wide range of consulting, advisory and specialist technical services to the property and infrastructure industries across project management, urban planning, real estate and independent assurance. www.app.com.au
Broadspectrum is a multi-discipline electrical, commissioning, mechanical and instrumentation service company for the construction, mining, and energy markets. A wholly owned subsidiary of Transfield Services, Broadspectrum works throughout Australia and overseas. Broadspectrum has Industrial Services Centres throughout Australia to deliver electrical and instrumentation, mechanical services, fabrication, commissioning, scaffolding, and protective coatings as well as minor shutdowns. www.broadspectrum.com.au
Easternwell Group, another Transfield subsidiary, offers contractor services in drilling, well servicing and maintenance, engineering and rig manufacturing, catering, mobile camp manufacturing, logistics, pipelines and construction, technical services, pressure control and snubbing. Easternwell Group also has a number of support services within the company including aviation, training, health, safety and environment and corporate services. www.easternwell.com.au
Transfield subsidiary HRI is the world’s only provider of high-temperature inspections and repairs in environments with temperatures ranging from 600 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit using a patented heat-safe system in refineries, power plants, and industrial facilities. www.hightempinc.com
ICD – another Transfield subsidiary – delivers engineering and design of maintenance and brownfield projects to the hydrocarbons, processing and related industries. ICD has offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne and works on Shell’s industrial sites in Clyde in New South Wales, Geelong, and at a terminal site in Fremantle. www.icdasiapacific.com.a
Inser Transfield Services (Inser TS) delivers engineering, construction and maintenance services to global mining and mineral processing companies operating in Chile. www.insersudamerica.com
Steier Oil Field Service is a Roustabout and Pipeline company and Transfield subsidiary, serving the oil and gas industry in western North Dakota, USA. www.steieroilfieldservice.com
Transfield’s Ten Rivers offers complete environment consultancy and service solutions. www.tenrivers.com.au/
Other Transfield subsidiaries:
- Australian Quality Assurance & Superintendence Pty Ltd (Aquas) was established in 1991and is a national firm with extensive experience in the development and implementation of Environmental, Quality and Safety management systems and compliance audit services. www.aquas.com.au/
- The Planning Group is a multi-disciplinary urban planning consultancy practice providing services in statutory planning, strategic planning, project management, advocacy, community engagement, master planning and urban design. It’s services include: Advocacy, Community Consultation, Development Approvals, Strategic Planning, Urban Design and Masterplanning, and VCAT and Planning Panels. www.theplanninggroup.com.au/
- CI provides a dedicated leasing service across its national offices and has expertise in managing both owner and tenant requirements across major commercial, industrial and retail properties. www.ciaustralia.com.au/
- Australian Drilling Solutions
- Colby Corporation Pty Ltd and Colby Unit Trust
- Collinsvile Corporation Pty Ltd
- Eastern Catering Services Holdings
- Eastern Pressure Control
- ETSH Pty Ltd
- EWG Aircraft Pty
- EWS Aircraft Pty
- Gorey and Cole Drillers
- ICD (Asia Pacific) Pty Ltd
- OGC Services
- Peak Drilling Pty
- Piver Pty
- Porcelain Holdings Pty
- SDC Plant & Equipment
- Sides Drilling Contractors
- Silver City Drilling
- Transfield Metrolink
- Transhare Plan
- Ingeneria Ambiental y Servicios (Chile)
- Inversiones Transfield Services (Chile) Holdings Limitad
- TS (Technology and Consulting) Private Limited
- Transfield Services Mannai Oil and Gas Services
- TIMEC Operating Company, Inc
- Transfield Services Oilfields, LLC
- Transfield Services Upstream Holdings, LLC