Tag Archives: Transfield

Artists for Refugees: Sydney Biennale boycott victory shows that divestment works

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boycott transfield

Sydney arts festival boycott successful

Van Thanh Rudd | 09-Mar-2014 : RedFlag

A public and determined boycott campaign has notched an important win for opponents of mandatory detention.  The Sydney Biennale arts festival announced on 7 March that it is cutting ties with Transfield.

The event, promoted as “Australia’s largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts festival”, might seem a world away from the horrors of Australia’s gulags. But it has long been funded by Transfield, a mandatory detention contractor.

In 2012, on the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne’s CBD, I set fire to an artwork of mine called No Nauru. It was a response to the Australian Labor Party reopening offshore detention facilities and granting $24.5 million to the multinational corporation Transfield to provide services and infrastructure on Nauru.

Last month, Transfield again received a contract, this time worth $1.2 billion, from the Abbott government, to provide “garrison and welfare services” for Nauru and Manus Island refugee detention centres.

The relationship between Transfield and the Biennale prompted arts educator Matthew Kiem to call for a boycott of the event. His open letter, posted on social media in early February, argues that Transfield is profiting from the misery of refugees. “Profits from mandatory detention fund the Biennale”, he wrote.

A Facebook page called Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney quickly gained well over a thousand likes. A website of the same name bears the slogan “Boycott Sydney Biennale – Don’t Add Value to Detention – Boycott, Divest, Disrupt”.

One of the aims of the boycott was to convince the 90 artists presenting exhibits to pull out. There was a decent response – more than 30 Biennale artists formed a working group to pressure the directors to sever ties with Transfield.

A protest action in support of the boycott was planned for 24 February. It was to be held at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – next to the Victorian College of the Arts, where a Biennale promotional event was to occur. However, in the boycott’s first small victory, the promotional event was cancelled. The protesters instead had a meeting to plan further boycott strategies.

At this stage, Biennale directors, however, remain unmoved: “We unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family [owners of Transfield] and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale must override claims over which there is ambiguity”, said the directors in response.

But pressure continued to build. An initial group of five artists withdrew their work, then another four. An installer, Peter Nelson, also resigned. “The relationship between the Biennale and the punitive practice of mandatory detention is a context that I feel I am unable to work within”, he said.

Eventually, the boycott proved effective. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately”, read the Biennale organisers statement.

[A public forum, “Artists, Boycotts and Movements”, supported by the Victorian College of the Arts Student Association, is scheduled for 18 March, 1-2pm, Cinema 2, VCA, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.]

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Sydney Biennale boycott victory shows that divestment works

Super funds, city councils and universities also have links with providers of detention infrastructure – one by one we will insist that they sever the connections

and : theguardian.com, Tuesday 11 March 2014

manus island camp
Transfield Services won a $1.2bn contract to provide welfare and infrastructural services at detention camps on Manus Island, above, and Nauru. Photograph: Getty

Last Friday, the seemingly impossible happened. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, director of Transfield Holdings, resigned from his position as chair of the board of the Biennale of Sydney. He tweeted “I hope that blue sky may now open over this 19th @biennalesydney”, as the Biennale simultaneously dropped Transfield’s funding.

Despite this being a proof of the power of the boycott, and a precedent for new ways of taking action against the policy of mandatory detention, the commentariat rushed to condemn the announcement as soon as it was made. Many contributions, such as this Sydney Morning Herald piece and this one in The Conversation, put forward two theses: 1) that this was a blow for arts sponsorship and 2) that encouraging divestment from Transfield is pointless because mandatory detention is the government’s policy. Artists were dismissed as hypocrites for accepting government funding, despite the evident difference between tax-collected funding and profits from incarceration. These arguments also purposefully misunderstand the point of the boycott and deny the power of this crucial step towards disrupting the private supply chain on which Australia’s cruel “deterrent” policy depends. There is no way of separating government policy from industry infrastructure; the detention regime in Australia is a public-private partnership.

This is not about corporate arts sponsorship. The artists who jeopardised their careers, the activists who worked with them and those directly affected who called for the action all had one aim in mind. Theirs was a boycott against a system that indefinitely detains asylum seekers who arrive by boat, through a policy steeped in secrecy and violence which has already seen the killing of asylum seeker Reza Berati. Australia, the first country to introduce mandatory detention of asylum seekers, has long been a global laboratory of deterrence strategies that foment popular racism.

Transfield Services won a $1.2bn contract to provide welfare and core infrastructural services to the detention camps at Nauru and Manus Island. The attempts to distance Transfield Holdings, the private family company of Luca and Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, from these profits are obfuscations. Transfield Holdings is the second largest shareholder in Transfield Services, and while Luca and his brother no longer sit on the board of Transfield Services, that does not mean his interests are not represented. The Transfield Foundation, through which the Biennale was funded, is backed jointly by Transfield Holdings and Services. And Luca, it bears reminding, is on record as saying that Transfield is doing “nothing wrong” in profiting from mandatory detention.

Most importantly, as was emphasised by the boycotting artists, the entire Transfield brand, and not just its subsidiaries, derives value from its philanthropic activities. And while the investment in the Biennale may have been small (about 6% of its overall budget, not including in-kind), the benefits reaped were huge: it was an exercise in culture washing on a city-wide scale.

The call to boycott the 19th Sydney Biennale was made in an open letter by a Sydney arts educator, Matt Kiem. However, this was a step along a path that leads back to the Woomera protests of 2002. Renewing the commitment to dismantle the camps, in December 2013 a meeting organised by the Beyond Borders Collective in Melbourne triggered discussions of boycott, divestment and sanctions. This momentum also led to a working paper, a research and information website, a video detailing the connections between Transfield and the Biennale, and social media debates. Boycott strategies were publicly supported by Australia’s only organisation of refugees and ex-detainees, RISE, and have been called for by those in the camps at Nauru and Manus Island, the hunger strikers at Christmas island and those at Villawood whose lead we follow, and whose resistance within the camps themselves has had a massively understated role in accounts of events around the Biennale.

Those who bemoaned the end of the Transfield-Biennale relationship are wrong in believing that things end here. The Biennale’s decision to sever its 41-year ties with Transfield is proof that divestment is a reality. We believe that many people, not only a few principled artists, can see that it is hypocritical to profit from the degradation of one group – asylum seekers – to support another.

Superannuation funds, city councils and universities around Australia also have links with Transfield and other providers of detention infrastructure. One by one we will insist that these institutions divest their connections to the mandatory detention infrastructure. The artists – including those on Manus Island whose art forced them to flee in search of a better future – have shown them the way.

Sydney arts festival boycott successful

A public and determined boycott campaign has notched an important win for opponents of mandatory detention.  The Sydney Biennale arts festival announced on 7 March that it is cutting ties with Transfield.

The event, promoted as “Australia’s largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts festival”, might seem a world away from the horrors of Australia’s gulags. But it has long been funded by Transfield, a mandatory detention contractor.

In 2012, on the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne’s CBD, I set fire to an artwork of mine called No Nauru. It was a response to the Australian Labor Party reopening offshore detention facilities and granting $24.5 million to the multinational corporation Transfield to provide services and infrastructure on Nauru.

Last month, Transfield again received a contract, this time worth $1.2 billion, from the Abbott government, to provide “garrison and welfare services” for Nauru and Manus Island refugee detention centres.

The relationship between Transfield and the Biennale prompted arts educator Matthew Kiem to call for a boycott of the event. His open letter, posted on social media in early February, argues that Transfield is profiting from the misery of refugees. “Profits from mandatory detention fund the Biennale”, he wrote.

A Facebook page called Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney quickly gained well over a thousand likes. A website of the same name bears the slogan “Boycott Sydney Biennale – Don’t Add Value to Detention – Boycott, Divest, Disrupt”.

One of the aims of the boycott was to convince the 90 artists presenting exhibits to pull out. There was a decent response – more than 30 Biennale artists formed a working group to pressure the directors to sever ties with Transfield.

A protest action in support of the boycott was planned for 24 February. It was to be held at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – next to the Victorian College of the Arts, where a Biennale promotional event was to occur. However, in the boycott’s first small victory, the promotional event was cancelled. The protesters instead had a meeting to plan further boycott strategies.

At this stage, Biennale directors, however, remain unmoved: “We unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family [owners of Transfield] and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale must override claims over which there is ambiguity”, said the directors in response.

But pressure continued to build. An initial group of five artists withdrew their work, then another four. An installer, Peter Nelson, also resigned. “The relationship between the Biennale and the punitive practice of mandatory detention is a context that I feel I am unable to work within”, he said.

Eventually, the boycott proved effective. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately”, read the Biennale organisers statement.

[A public forum, “Artists, Boycotts and Movements”, supported by the Victorian College of the Arts Student Association, is scheduled for 18 March, 1-2pm, Cinema 2, VCA, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.]

– See more at: http://redflag.org.au/article/sydney-arts-festival-boycott-successful#sthash.oQvwPoL3.dpuf

Sydney arts festival boycott successful

A public and determined boycott campaign has notched an important win for opponents of mandatory detention.  The Sydney Biennale arts festival announced on 7 March that it is cutting ties with Transfield.

The event, promoted as “Australia’s largest and most exciting contemporary visual arts festival”, might seem a world away from the horrors of Australia’s gulags. But it has long been funded by Transfield, a mandatory detention contractor.

In 2012, on the bank of the Yarra River in Melbourne’s CBD, I set fire to an artwork of mine called No Nauru. It was a response to the Australian Labor Party reopening offshore detention facilities and granting $24.5 million to the multinational corporation Transfield to provide services and infrastructure on Nauru.

Last month, Transfield again received a contract, this time worth $1.2 billion, from the Abbott government, to provide “garrison and welfare services” for Nauru and Manus Island refugee detention centres.

The relationship between Transfield and the Biennale prompted arts educator Matthew Kiem to call for a boycott of the event. His open letter, posted on social media in early February, argues that Transfield is profiting from the misery of refugees. “Profits from mandatory detention fund the Biennale”, he wrote.

A Facebook page called Boycott the 19th Biennale of Sydney quickly gained well over a thousand likes. A website of the same name bears the slogan “Boycott Sydney Biennale – Don’t Add Value to Detention – Boycott, Divest, Disrupt”.

One of the aims of the boycott was to convince the 90 artists presenting exhibits to pull out. There was a decent response – more than 30 Biennale artists formed a working group to pressure the directors to sever ties with Transfield.

A protest action in support of the boycott was planned for 24 February. It was to be held at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art – next to the Victorian College of the Arts, where a Biennale promotional event was to occur. However, in the boycott’s first small victory, the promotional event was cancelled. The protesters instead had a meeting to plan further boycott strategies.

At this stage, Biennale directors, however, remain unmoved: “We unanimously believe that our loyalty to the Belgiorno-Nettis family [owners of Transfield] and the hundreds of thousands of people who benefit from the Biennale must override claims over which there is ambiguity”, said the directors in response.

But pressure continued to build. An initial group of five artists withdrew their work, then another four. An installer, Peter Nelson, also resigned. “The relationship between the Biennale and the punitive practice of mandatory detention is a context that I feel I am unable to work within”, he said.

Eventually, the boycott proved effective. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately”, read the Biennale organisers statement.

[A public forum, “Artists, Boycotts and Movements”, supported by the Victorian College of the Arts Student Association, is scheduled for 18 March, 1-2pm, Cinema 2, VCA, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.]

– See more at: http://redflag.org.au/article/sydney-arts-festival-boycott-successful#sthash.oQvwPoL3.dpuf

Artists stand in solidarity with refugees and call for a boycott of Sydney Biennale

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Open Letter to the Board of the Biennale by Participants in the 19th Biennale of Sydney

To the Board of Directors of the Biennale of Sydney,

We are a group of artists Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis,  Sara van der Heide, Henna-Riikka Halonen, Ane Hjort Guttu,  Hadley+Maxwell, Shannon Te Ao, Yael Bartana, all participants in the 19th Biennale of Sydney.

We are writing to you about our concerns with the Biennale’s sponsorship arrangement with Transfield.

We would like to begin with an affirmation and recognition of the Biennale staff, other sponsors and donors, and our fellow artists. We maintain the utmost respect for Juliana Engberg’s artistic vision and acknowledge the support and energy that the Biennale staff have put into the creation of our projects and this exhibition. We acknowledge that this issue places the Biennale team in a difficult situation.

However, we want to emphasise that this issue has presented us with an opportunity to become aware of, and to acknowledge, responsibility for our own participation in a chain of connections that links to human suffering; in this case, that is caused by Australia’s policy of mandatory detention.

We trust that you understand the implications of Transfield’s recent move to secure new contracts to take over garrison and welfare services in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres on Manus Island and in Nauru. We have attached for your information, a document that outlines our understanding of the links between the Biennale, Transfield and Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

We appeal to you to work alongside us to send a message to Transfield, and in turn the Australian Government and the public: that we will not accept the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, because it is ethically indefensible and in breach of human rights; and that, as a network of artists, arts workers and a leading cultural organisation, we do not want to be associated with these practices.

Our current circumstances are complex: public institutions are increasingly reliant on private finance, and less on public funding, and this can create ongoing difficulties. We are aware of these complexities and do not believe that there is one easy answer to the larger situation. However, in this particular case, we regard our role in the Biennale, under the current sponsorship arrangements, as adding value to the Transfield brand. Participation is an active endorsement, providing cultural capital for Transfield.

In light of all this, we ask the Board: what will you do? We urge you to act in the interests of asylum seekers. As part of this we request the Biennale withdraw from the current sponsorship arrangements with Transfield and seek to develop new ones. This will set an important precedent for Australian and international arts institutions, compelling them to exercise a greater degree of ethical awareness and transparency regarding their funding sources. We are asking you, respectfully, to respond with urgency.

Our interests as artists don’t merely concern our individual moral positions. We are concerned too with the ways cultural institutions deal with urgent social responsibilities. We expect the Biennale to acknowledge the voice of its audience and the artist community that is calling on the institution to act powerfully and immediately for justice by cutting its ties with Transfield.

We believe that artists and artworkers can—and should—create an environment that empowers individuals and groups to act on conscience, opening up other pathways to develop more sustainable, and in turn sustaining, forms of cultural production. We want to extend this discussion to a range of people and organisations, in order to bring to light the various forces shaping our current situation, and to work towards imagining other possibilities into being. In our current political circumstances we believe this to be one of the most crucial challenges that we are compelled to engage with, and we invite you into this process of engagement.

We look forward to hearing your response and given the urgency of this issue, hope that we can receive it by the end of this week.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Gabrielle de Vietri, Bianca Hester, Charlie Sofo, Nathan Gray, Deborah Kelly, Matt Hinkley, Benjamin Armstrong, Libia Castro, Ólafur Ólafsson, Sasha Huber, Sonia Leber, David Chesworth, Daniel McKewen, Angelica Mesiti, Ahmet Öğüt, Meriç Algün Ringborg, Joseph Griffiths, Sol Archer, Tamas Kaszas, Krisztina Erdei, Nathan Coley, Corin Sworn, Ross Manning, Martin Boyce, Callum Morton, Emily Roysdon, Søren Thilo Funder, Mikhail Karikis,  Hadley+Maxwell, Shannon Te Ao, Yael Bartana, Sara van der Heide, Henna-Riikka Halonen, Ane Hjort Guttu.

NOTES
1. Please note that in this document we use the name Transfield to refer to three branches of the Transfield brand: Transfield Holdings, Services and Foundation. Please refer to our information sheet for our understanding of how these are linked.

  • Here is a link to the Open Letter as a pdf: OpenLettertotheBoard
  • Here is a pdf of the supporting documentation that was sent along with the above letter.

For press comment:
Gabrielle de Vietri 2014workinggroup@gmail.com

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Monday 17th February 2014

Dear Artists,RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, is the first organisation in Australia to be governed entirely by refugees and asylum seekers.  RISE consists of over 30 different refugee communities in Australia and exists to enable refugees and asylum seekers to build new lives by providing advice, engaging in community development, enhancing opportunities, and campaigning for refugee rights.

RISE supports a complete boycott of the 19th Sydney Biennale as Transfield, a major sponsor and partner of this event, receives income from the operation of Australia’s deadly offshore internment camps for refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2012, Australian Artist Van Thanh Rudd first called for a boycott of the 18th Sydney Biennale when Transfield Services won a $24.5 million Australian government contract to provide facilities in the Nauru asylum seeker detention camp.

Transfield’s income from these operations (as of February 2014) is over 300 million dollars, and they have now won yet another contract to run “welfare services” on both Nauru and Manus Island.  At the same time, there are shocking reports of mistreatment and abuse in these camps including eye-witness accounts from medical staff, welfare officers and other former detention staff.

In addition to organisations such as Amnesty and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees cataloguing these abuses, Pakistani news outlet Dawn recently reported the story of a Hazara asylum seeker whose two siblings died in 2013 on Nauru. The family had fled from Quetta, Pakistan, after their father was shot dead in the local market.  The asylum seeker described appalling conditions in the Nauru camp, including being held in overcrowded tents with little privacy and security.  The asylum seeker’s brother was stabbed to death and his sister died in his arms from pneumonia due to inadequate treatment.  In short, Australia and Transfield have the blood of refugees on their hands.

In 2011, RISE made submission to an Australian parliamentary enquiry predicting that unchecked expansion of Australia’s privatised detention network would lead to a US-style private prison industrial complex where immigration policy would be shaped by corporations who profit from misery.  Our predictions have unfortunately come true: a report released in 2013 by the US based Sentencing Project, stated that Australia has the largest private prison population in the world thanks to its asylum seeker policy.

Participation in the Sydney Biennale sponsored by Transfield makes artists partners in a system that silences the voices of refugees and asylum seekers and profits from their misery.

If you believe that refugees are entitled to the right to protection of life, freedom, dignity and respect, we ask that you take a stand and not participate or support this event or any other event that benefits from the dirty profits of Australia’s racist, anti-refugee industry.

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For more information on the artist boycott in support of refugees, please click here: Collated links for 19th Biennale of Sydney Boycott