Broadspectrum: Profiting off the illegal detention of refugees

Last week another refugee was found dead on Manus Island, where Australia runs one of their illegal offshore detention centres. The man was a Sri Lankan Tamil and had been formally recognised as a refugee as have about 85% of people held there. Staff on the island said he had been acutely mentally ill for months.

Australia is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, meaning that they should give safe asylum to people seeking refuge. Australia continually denies this right in their offshore detention centres on Manus, Nauru and Christmas Island. At least eight other refugees have died in Australia’s offshore detention centres.


In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea (PNG) decided that Australia’s operations on Manus was illegal and unconstitutional in regards to the right to personal liberty under PNG law. In 2017 the Australian government was sued by refugees and asylum seekers because they were being illegally detained in dangerous conditions on Manus Island. The Australian government settled the case and thus avoided close scrutiny and taking any liability by agreeing to a $70m compensation pay out, the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history.

The costs of this settlement are to be shared with the operators of the Manus Island detention centre, G4S and Broadspectrum. It is also possible that some of the settlement could be paid by Wilson Security, who are subcontracted by Broadspectrum to manage security in the detention centre. Wilson was sued by Broadspectrum and brought into the class action as a secondary defendant. The breakdown of the settlement between the Australian government and companies has not been made public.

border security stretch

What is known however is that these companies have profited from the illegal detention, suffering and death of refugees and asylum seekers. Broadspectrum is one of the companies who has profited heavily from Australia’s brutal policies, so much so that is has become the most profitable part of the group’s operations.

Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield Services) was originally an Australian company but was bought by Ferrovial, a Spanish multinational, in June 2016. Broadspectrum operates across a wide range of industries, including property and facilities management (e.g. offshore detention camps), defence, transport (including road, rail and public transport), utilities (including water, power, and telecommunications), and mining and chemical processing and hydrocarbons.

Broadspectrum (then Transfield) took over running Manus Island from security group G4S in February 2014, and has been in charge of the Nauru detention centre since 2013. The company was paid over 1.5 billion dollars over three years for running both centres made them responsible for support and “welfare services” on the islands of Nauru and Manus. This includes managing both facilities, catering, maintenance, recreation and educational activities. It subcontracts security services on both Manus and Nauru to Wilson Security.

Transfield changed its name to Broadspectrum after the company’s founding family withdrew its rights to use the Transfield name in 2015, over concerns about the company’s management of the offshore detention centres.

Amnesty International produced a detailed report titled Treasure I$land on the companies profiting off the militarisation of Australian borders and more recently issued a statement about Broadspectrum’s profits. It stated, “Financial reports released today show that between 1 January and 30 June 2017 Ferrovial reported revenues of €1.326 billion from Broadspectrum, its wholly-owned Australian subsidiary which operates Refugee Processing Centres (RPCs) on Nauru and Manus Island. Ferrovial also reported a 40.1% increase in revenues compared to the first half of 2016, largely due to Broadspectrum.”

Broadspectrum has responded to the criticism by downplaying and denying its complicity in the systematic abuse of refugees, stating in a press release that “Broadspectrum is being held responsible for a range of matters well outside its scope, since it does not manage the centres and has no power to decide on the status of the people concerned.”

Broadspectrum has also chosen to focus on the fact that the parent company Ferrovial has decided not to renew the contracts for operating on Manus and Nauru. This however does not wipe clean the profit made up until this point on the illegal detention of refugees.

Broadspectrum also operates in New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Chile, Brunei, New Caledonia, and The Philippines. This year Broadspectrum joined the New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA). According to its website Broadspectrum is one of Australia’s largest defence contractors, and currently employs more than 1,200 staff to service the defence industry there.

The NZDIA are having their annual conference in Wellington on the 10th and 11th of October. One could assume the newly minted member Broadspectrum will be there to start angling for NZ defence contracts. Peace Action Wellington have organised a community blockade of the Weapons Expo to show the defence industry they are not welcome here, that no one should profit from war. It is our chance to stand up for refugees and asylum seekers and show companies like Broadspectrum that we find them abhorrent.


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