A respected Aboriginal elder who died in the back of a non-airconditioned prison van while being transported across the West Australian outback in the middle of summer arrived at hospital drenched in sweat, unconscious and with third-degree burns on his stomach, an inquest has heard. — The Australian

To understand how it might be that an Aboriginal man could slowly die in the back of a van driven by GSL guards in 2008, one has only to read this report of another GSL transfer in 2004.

Five detainees were placed in an overheated van by force at Maribyrnong Detention Centre and then driven for seven hours to Mildura and then, after an hour break, driven to Baxter detention Centre in Port Augusta.

A HREOC report details the horrific conditions and the fact that guards just kept driving despite witnessing the dehydration and distress of their passengers:

MR HAMBURGER: We have got that evidence of people attempting banging and calling out, wanting to stop for a toilet break and get fluids, urinating on the floor where they have to actually sit and we have got two people in the front of the cabin ignoring all of this, seemingly, just driving.

GSL OFFICER: We were not told to do anything else, we were just told to drive. The order said drive, there was no pit stops as such, we were just told to drive.

MR HAMBURGER: Did it cross your mind or did you and (the co-driver) have a discussion about “gee, this must be pretty tough on the fellas in the back, do you think we should ask the team leader whether we should stop”?

GSL OFFICER: I can’t recall whether the discussion came up at all.

MR HAMBURGER: Thinking back you can’t, just thinking of yourself, did you think this is a bit tough on these people?

GSL OFFICER: I was told to do a job and I did it and that is what I did, I was told to drive from here to Mildura.

The Commonwealth Government was ordered to pay compensation of $15,000 per person plus two extra payments of $10,000. In all a gross amount of $85,000.

They did not pay at least two people and probably more because “they do not know their whereabouts”.

However yesterday we learnt through the Coronial Inquiry that GSL paid the Government $500,000 compensation for failing to honour their contract obligations (reported on Lateline).

If they paid three people their compensation, this still leaves a profit of $455,000. Not bad money to make on the backs of people’s suffering. It seems that there is money to be made in contracting out!

Even more chilling is the fact that the abuse which GSL got away with in 2004 and 2005, they continued to practise in 2008 when a man died in the back of a van, a slow painful and horrific death while the guards kept driving — just doing their job!

If there is compensation to be paid, how much will the government profit this time, on the back of yet another Aboriginal death in custody?