Transfield Services aims to send fund managers to Nauru and Manus

Some of Australia's top fund managers may get guided tours of asylum-seeker detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island under a plan by Transfield Services.

This is to assure industry superannuation funds that it is not committing human rights abuses.

Transfield expects the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to renew a AUD$2.2 billion (US$1.5 billion) contract providing operational, maintenance and welfare support ­services for detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru within the next few weeks before its current contract expires on October 31.

Chief executive Graeme Hunt said he hoped the new contract would allow Transfield to be “transparent to the maximum extent possible” so it could show investors it was meeting its social and governance obligations.

“Some of the people we have engaged with on this issue have told us they feel sorry for us because we are the meat in the sandwich,” he said.

While several human rights groups have visited the detention centres, no investor trips have taken place because of the sensitivity of the locations. The possible move by Transfield illustrates how seriously the company is taking a push by activists to pressure industry super funds to embarrass the company by publicly announcing that they are selling its shares.

Industry super fund HESTA this month said it sold a 3.5 per cent stake, worth some $23 million (US$16 million), citing evidence of human rights violations inside the detention centres. 

The $32 billion (US$22 billion) super fund said the risks associated with Transfield were too high, claiming the social governance issues associated with its detention centre contracts could hurt the company's business and share price and lead to legal action. Other super funds, including NGS Super, have been selling their shares too.

Transfield's largest shareholder, funds management firm Allan Gray, welcomed the prospect of seeing the detention centres.

“We would definitely take the opportunity to visit the centres on Manus Island and Nauru,” Allan Gray managing director Simon Mawhinney said.