Privatisation: For the People or the Profit?

April 5, 2017
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By Leighton Campbell

Since the 1980s, a phenomenon has been sweeping our world over. Governments have been jumping on board from all corners of the globe and transforming their countries in the signing of a contract, the dotting of the “I’s” and the crossing of the “T’s”.

The phenomenon is privatisation, and it is one that over the last few decades, has seen government owned enterprises sold to private corporations, usually at the aims of reducing government debt and increasing efficiency of the enterprise sold. But at what cost is privatisation really worth? Is the selling of state-owned enterprises to private corporations, whose main concerns are turning a profit, truly able to coincide with the interests of the people?

Privatisation is a phenomenon that has encapsulated all sides of politics. It was the Labor governments of Paul Keating and Bob Hawke from 1983 – 1996 that first saw government-owned assets being sold off in large-scale numbers. This has continued throughout the years with both Liberal and Labor governments selling more and more to private corporations. According to a survey conducted by the Australian Economic Review in 2014, the amount of money raised through privatisation since 1987 amounts to an estimated $194 billion. Looked at from this angle, privatisation certainly has its appeals. However, the implementation of privatisation in areas like refugee detention centres has seen more damage than repair.

The Australian government have spent billions of dollars contracting private companies to run our offshore and onshore detention centres. International security companies such as G4S, Wilson, Serco, and Transfield have had contracts with the Australian government for the caretaking of detention centres. These companies have also had various other security contracts with governments overseas. For example, G4S has had a security contract with a detention centre near Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom. A running theme with these outsourced security corporations seems to be the breaching of human rights and the consistently low quality conditions of the centres that they are responsible for. During the time in which Transfield had their $1.2 billion contract with the Australian government to oversee the detention centre on Nauru, 30 cases of alleged child abuses were reported against various staff hired by Transfield.

A Senate Select Committee into the running of the detention centre also revealed that Transfield had terminated 402 staff working on the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, with 31 of those staff members being let go due to reported misconduct towards asylum seekers. One questions how the outsourcing of running detention centres to private companies is meant to improve efficiency when the government is then required to step in to ensure the safety of its detainees and quality of the centres are being kept up to standard. In this instance, privatisation seems to be doing more harm than good, and certainly does not seem to be the most cost effective way to run the detention centres.

No matter how many poorly run detention centres Australia or the world sees, privatisation is still going to be a continuing process that governments will actively choose to be involved in. Selling government-owned enterprises is certainly an easy and guaranteed way to raise revenue for governments, where money can be spent to lower debts or to fund education and health. At the end of the day, we need to make sure our governments are truly putting our best interests at heart when they reach for that pen to sign off on another sale to a private company.

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