A single private corporation — Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) — runs all six of the horrendous refugee detention camps in Australia.
ACM is the Australian subsidiary of the Miami-based detention and security giant, Wackenhut. Wackenhut has received contracts to develop and manage 55 private prisons spanning the United States, Australia, Britain, Puerto Rico, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the Caribbean island of Curacao, with a total of over 40,000 people under lock and key.
The Wackenhut Corporation is named after its founder, George R. Wackenhut, who began his dungeon-master career as an FBI agent. In the early 1950s he began his own security-guard hire business.
From there he branched out into surveillance of political dissidents and by 1966 Wackenhut maintained files on over four million suspected dissidents. Today, Wackenhut polices a global network of prisons, refugee detention camps, suburban shopping centres, banks, nuclear power plants, missile bases, 20 US embassies and, in the US, hires out its prisoners for unpaid labour for other companies. George Wackenhut himself lives in a mock castle surrounded by battlement walls in Florida.
In a documentary screened on SBS in 2000, the man behind the prison empire, George Wackenhut, welcomed the introduction of mandatory detention in Australia saying with a smile, "[Australia is] really starting to punish people, as they should have done all along". Shortly after he added, "This year we are going to make US$400 million". In fact, the corporation made US$535 million in 2000 and US$562 million in 2001.
Like its parent company, ACM has also been profiting immensely from punishing defenceless human beings. In November 2000 ACM announced that its annual turnover had topped $100 million and that it recorded an after tax profit of $7.5 million.
The November 23, 2000 edition of ABC Radio's PM reported starkly that "a comparison with the previous year's figures suggests that the large influx of boat people in 1999 contributed greatly to ACM's income".
ACM was registered as a corporation in Australia in 1991 and quickly expanded its share in the new growth industry of private prisons. ACM has operated the Arthur Gory Remand and Reception Centre in Queensland since 1992, the Junee Correctional Centre in New South Wales since 1993, the Fulham Correctional Centre in Victoria since 1997 and the Melbourne Custody Centre since 1999.
In 1997, ACM won from the federal government the tender to police the refugee detention camps.
The government's continuing refusal to allow an independent investigation into widely documented human rights abuses inside the refugee detention centres has been crucial to ACM's profitability.
Not satisfied with just six refugee detention camps and four prisons, ACM has secured from the government exclusive rights to operate three new refugee camps. Yet ACM's camps remain chronically overcrowded. Although it was built to hold 425 people, Woomera detention centre currently holds 1200 asylum seekers. Curtin detention centre was built to hold no more than 270 people, but now holds 850 people while Villawood detention centre in suburban Sydney currently holds around 100 people above its capacity.
Under its agreement with the federal government, ACM is required to provide detainees with adequate clothing. Despite grossing an average of $500,000 a month, ACM has sourced tons of clothing and other materials from various charities.
ACM guards refer to detainees, not by their names, but by assigned numbers corresponding to the prefix of the boat they arrived on, such as "Don 27" or "Tamp 180".
Detainees are forced to work cleaning kitchens and toilets, often working 12 hours a week in return for a $15 or $20 phone card.
While getting ACM out of the detention camps would be a step forward, a far greater step forward would be the closure of the camps once and for all.
BY CHRIS ATKINSON
[Chris Atkinson is the organiser of the Darwin branch of the socialist youth organisation Resistance.]
From Green Left Weekly, March 20, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.