Victory over Broadspectrum just first step, say students

Students taking action on Newcastle University in support of refugee rights.
June 30, 2017

After years of student and staff dissent about the presence of Broadspectrum on campus, University of Newcastle quietly announced it would be ending the contract at the end of this year, two years earlier than agreed.

The university had contracted Broadspectrum, formerly known as Transfield, to manage the facilities, waste and security on the Callaghan, Ourimbah, Port Macquarie and Sydney campuses.

Broadspectrum also oversees these services on Manus Island and Nauru. The same company oversees the assaults and torture of asylum seekers and refugees: vulnerable people who have fled war, violence and persecution.

This is a massive win for us and one step closer to defunding and delegitimating the offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers. We could not have done this without the support of the student and staff body, particularly the National Tertiary Education Union, and also the wider community.

Students Against Detention began last year when a few of us protested the contract after the release of the Nauru Files. We had been feeling disheartened hearing about what was going on Manus Island and Nauru and felt that with this campaign we could finally do something.

This action was well received by staff and students. We found that not many people knew our money was going to Broadspectrum. We seized every opportunity to be vocal about the contract and hold the university accountable for their complicity in the abuse and torture of refugees and asylum seekers.

We held actions at nearly every public university promotional event. We protested at the open day last year, where we had people in chicken wire cages holding signs saying “Stop UON supporting child abuse” and “No business in abuse”.

We were present at Orientation Week, where we held film nights, stalls, research days and workshops. We spoke to the Vice Chancellor every chance we could.

This really shows the power that comes from a few people’s ideas, strength and motivation. It indicates the power we have as a community over larger institutions.

When talking to people about our win, many people have said, “People power really works. When people come together to campaign and force institutions and government policies to change, it works.”

Although this is an amazing outcome, we still have much to do. Refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru are still being held in torturous conditions. Currently, the men on Manus Island are being threatened with deportation from the detention centre. Children are continuing to be harmed.

We’re going to shift our focus to campaigning on the university to include not employing, investing in or doing business with companies involved in the detaining of refugees in its procurement policy.

We want to ensure our university never gives student money to another company involved in the torturing of vulnerable men, women and children. This isn’t the end of Students Against Detention.

[This article is based on a speech given to the Refugee Day rally in Newcastle on June 24.]

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