Revealing the reality of privatised Serco “care” in Australia

Back in late 2011, journalist Paul Farrell and yours truly… released in… New Matilda, via Freedom of Information, the secret contract between the Australian government and Serco with the details of imprisoning asylum seekers in Australia. It showed the lack of training required by Serco staff when working around vulnerable refugees. Both parties imposed a regime that reminded one of a maximum security prison. When I visited… Christmas Island… and… Curtin… detention centres last year I saw evidence of this mentality in practice.

Now… Crikey… has released another document that also paints Serco in a terrible light:

A prison-style training manual produced by the company contracted to run Australia’s detention centres contains explicit instructions on how to “hit” and “strike” asylum seekers.

The 400-page, illustrated 2010 and 2009 Serco induction training documents, obtained by… Crikey, shows how prison staff are trained to kick, punch and jab their fingers into detainee limbs and “pressure points” to render them motionless.

Serco, which has a $1 billion contract with the Gillard government to run nine asylum outposts, has repeatedly fought the release of similar documents, claiming other versions are not in the “public interest” and could cause commotion inside lockups. (Read the… full manual here).

The “control and restraint” techniques included in the 2009 training course manual recommends the use of “pain” to defend, subdue and control asylum seekers through straight punches, palm heel strikes, side angle kicks, front thrust kicks and knee strikes.

“Subdue the subject using reasonable force so that he/she is no longer in the assailant category,” it explains.

“If justified, necessary force is to be used to bring the subject to cooperative subjective status whereupon they respond favourably to verbalisation.”

Under a section headed “principles in controlling Resistive Behaviour”, guards are told to cause pain, stun, distract, unbalance and use “striking technique” to cause “motor dysfunction”.

Guards are told to target specific “pressure points” in the manner of riot squad police to squeeze nerves as ” a valuable subject control option”.

“They enhance your ability, to compel compliance from unco-operative subjects,” it explains. The “expected effect” is “medium to high level pain”.

In one instance, guards, referred to by the government and Serco as “Client Services Officers”, are taught to attack detainees’ jugulars to cause them to fall over.

In another, they are told to employ a “downward kick” to the “lower shin” to cause “high level of pain and mental stunning” lasting up to seven seconds.

Batons are a useful weapon for guards to cause “medium to high tensity [sic] pain” and “forearm muscle cramping”. “Strikes should be delivered by a hammer fist,” it says.

Underpinning the kicking and punching and baton instructions is “two forms of strikes”. The “cutting strike” using a baton, “impacts” the detainee, “continuing through in one fluid motion ”¦ this could be equated to following through when swinging a bat”.

The Fluid Shock Wave principle is employed to “”¦generate optimum fluid shock with a hand, baton or knee”.

Of course the Federal Labor government is embarrassed that its dirty little secret is out and… simply claims things have… changed:

A 2010 Serco training manual detailing the force to be used by staff on hostile detainees is no longer relevant because it has been superseded by other manuals, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen says.

The… manual… which was yesterday leaked online by Crikey had chapters that explicitly outlined how staff could use pain as a… means of restraining and controlling aggressive detainees, including the infliction of straight punches, palm heel strikes, side angle kicks, front thrust kicks and knee strikes.

Mr Bowen said the manual was no longer in use “and does not reflect very clear guidelines agreed to by Serco and the Department of Immigration on engagement with people in detention facilities”.

“I am advised that the 2010 manual contained errors and has been superseded by other manuals, most recently the 2012 training guide,” he said.

“Any use of force or restraint in any detention environment is used strictly as a last resort.”

The theory behind the strikes was to “create temporary motor dysfunction” and “temporary muscle impairment” through the “fluid shock wave” that gets sent around detainees’ bodies, but only leaves bruising, the manual explained.

It also suggested that to “generate optimal fluid shock with a hand or baton” it was best to put a person’s whole body weight behind the strike.

Mr Bowen said Serco staff in immigration detention facilities did not carry weapons and the manual contained errors.

But a spokesman for Serco revealed that batons were present at the detention facilities and could be used defensively by “a very limited number of specially trained staff, along with other personal protective equipment”.

Today… Crikey… follows up the story and shows that secrecy is how this government operates and Serco is happy to assist:

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded to Crikey’s publication of the 2009 and 2010 Serco training manual — calling the manual “out-dated” and “no-longer in use”. Yet Bowen, the Immigration Department and Serco have refused to detail how the British-owned multinational has altered or updated it.

A spokesperson for Bowen told Crikey this morning the Minister would not be “discussing further the contents of the current manual for matters of operational security”.

When asked how many Serco guards trained in combat techniques to hit, strike and jab asylum seekers remain employed in the detention system, a Serco spokesperson responded that “staff receive refresher training at least annually, based on the most recent training materials”.

Serco didn’t explain what has been altered or updated in its induction documents, despite Department spokesperson Sandi Logan asserting there has been “at least four iterations” of the Serco training manual since 2009-10, including a 2012 version.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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