Private Contractors at Australian Refugee Processing Centres



The Australian government contracts a range of private companies to run detention centres in Australia, and asylum seeker regional processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

In recent years these companies have been the subject of numerous allegations of misconduct and abuse.  Detailed investigations into their conduct and processes have been carried out, including the Moss Reviewinto conditions at the Nauru processing centre and the Forgotten Children report into children in immigration detention.

This Explainer provides a brief overview of three private companies contracted by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection: G4S, Broadspectrum and Serco.


G4S is a British-based multinational security company, which specialises in managing corrections facilities. From February 2013 to March 2014, G4Swas contracted by the Australian government to provide management and security services on Manus Island.

G4S was managing the Manus Island regional processing centre when riots broke out among detainees, in February 2014. There were 69 detainees injured during the riots, and one Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, was killed.  

Following the riots, the Australian Senate carried out an inquiry and issued a detailed report. Two men, including a G4S guard, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Reza Barati. The Human Rights Law Centre also lodged a complaint about G4S with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The complaint was rejected.


Australian construction company Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield Services) began providing catering and building maintenance services on Manus Island and Nauru in 2012. More recently, its involvement in detention centres has expanded to “garrison and welfare services”, replacing the Salvation Army and Save the Children who previously provided these services.

In 2015, a report by the non-profit organisation No Business in Abuse, which analysed individual contracts between Broadspectrum and the Australian government, found that Broadspectrum received $1.5 billion over three years for its operations on Manus and Nauru. In addition, the report identified 47 breaches of international law that had taken place during Broadspectrum’s tenure. In response, Broadspectrum said that the report was a comment on government policy, over which it had no influence.

Broadspectrum’s current contract expires in March 2017, at which point it faces competition for renewal from Serco. However, it may not bid at all. Broadspectrum is currently the subject of a takeover bid from Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial, which has indicated it would not re-tender for Broadspectrum’s detention centre contracts.


Serco is a British company which, among other things, operates prisons, call centres, parking metres and schools. It is contracted by the Australian government to run the 11 onshore detention centres in Australia, as well as the processing centre on Christmas Island. Its contract was renewed in 2014 for a further five-year term and is valued at over $1 billion.

In recent years, Serco has come under strong criticism, particularly for its management of the Christmas Island processing centre. President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has described the conditions as being “manifestly crowded, unhygienic and harsh, especially for children, and the disabled and aged”.

Serco is paid for its services on a per-immigrant basis. As boat arrival numbers have decreased however, so have Serco’s revenues. It is expected to tender for the five-year contract, currently held by Broadspectrum, to run the Manus Island and Nauru centres.

Mohandas Gandhi

“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong”