Friday, 25 September 2015

Biennale Boycott Artists Led Way for Transfield Divestments



Biennale Boycott Artists Led Way for Transfield Divestments

By Ruth Skilbeck
9th September 2015


As the divestment campaign gains momentum we can look back and acknowledge with appreciation and respect those who led the way, and were attacked and criticised in Australia in the process: the artists


Photograph © Copyright Ruth Skilbeck 2014
Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson, with Refugee Art Project artist, trauma psychologist, and art work at Sydney College of the Arts, March 6, 2014.



I wrote this a few weeks back and tried to get it published in the mainstream media in Australia but was unable to so am publishing it here.

In a dark time when it seemed to many that politicians lost their moral compass the artists boycott of Sydney Biennale sponsor and Detention Centre contractor, Transfield, has had an ongoing impact in activism for humanitarian change

A split between human and God, reason and religion that saw the rise of the modern artist characterized the 18th Century Renaissance; a fresh alignment of ethics and freedom of expression is now bringing Art and Religion together, in distinctive ways, for a compelling reason: shared concern for humanity that signifies the start of new global humanism. What is most significant is the new focus on moral action, for ultimately it is morality that will bring about change in refugee and immigration policy.

On a Spring evening across Australia, candle-lit vigils (the Greens ‘Light the Dark’) drew thousands of people of all walks of life to parks and open spaces in cities to hear speeches against the current refugee policies, and detention camps, to call for a moral change, more humanity to be shown to refugees, to increase intake, and to lament the drowning of Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, 3, washed up on a Turkish beach. His tragic image has united people across the world in compassion for the Syrian refugees and also condemnation of the forces dislocating millions of people in the wars in Africa and the Middle East.

The outpouring of support for global asylum seekers, and public actions against Australian offshore detention centres and policies in breach of basic human rights, is uniting an increasing social movement of people who do not usually come together to protest and take action on social issues, including international artists, healthcare and community workers, the National Council of Churches Refugee Taskforce. Actively and democratically calling for the change of asylum seeker policy to a humanitarian approach, by deploying a shrewd combination of boycott, divestment, and moral sanctions.


The Artists Sydney Biennale Boycott 2014 worked


The effective movement of boycott, divestment and moral sanction began in Sydney with the artists Sydney Biennale Boycott in 2014 just over a month before the international art event was due to open on 21 March 2014, when prominent international artists found out major Biennale sponsor Transfield had a new contract to manage the Australian-run Manus Island and Nauru detention centre camps. Some of the international artists were working with refugees to make their art works in the Biennale or were making works about refugee issues.

The letter signed by 51 artists to the Biennale Board of Directors stated:

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 organization, we do not want to be associated with these practices.

They resisted the use of their art to “add value” and “cultural capital” to the image of a corporation profiting from detention camps. The letter added:

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

The situation was complicated by the fact that Sydney Biennale Chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis was a director of Transfield.14 days before the Biennale had been due to start, Mr Belgiorno-Nettis resigned from the Board, and the Biennale Board announced it was cutting the ties. Most of the artists then returned into the Biennale, as the boycott had seemed to achieve its objective

However in the run-up now to the next Biennale, the Transfield logo is still on the sponsor list. The Belgiorno-Nettis family has announced it sold its share in Transfield Services the infrastructure multinational that has the contract to run the Detention Centres; and owns only Transfield Holdings, which it says is not associated with the detention centres. (Transfield Holdings have said publicly that they have required that Transfield Services change the name, this may happen after October 2015).

Meanwhile, there has been activist investor success in influencing a major super fund HESTA, whose members are predominantly health care workers, to divest from Transfield Services, after an activist investor campaign HESTA Divest, HESTA divested from Transfield Services in which it had held a 3% stake that was worth over $18 million citing evidence of the human rights abuses as indicators of high risk that the share price will drop. A number of companies are indicated to be following this example due to the increasing financial risk for members.

Last week saw the publication of the Senate Inquiry into Taking responsibility: conditions and circumstances at Australia’s Regional Processing Centre in Nauru which confirmed the reported abuses of the Moss Report (released in March this year) and the Human Rights Commission report (The Forgotten Children, 2014), and recommending removal of all the children, “with their families if they have them”, from immigration detention “as soon as possible”.

Enlightenment is needed to change the policies and practices from above. On the strength of the Senate Inquiry report, and the AHRC report, and mounting pressures of an influential social and cultural ethical movement, there now is a new moral direction ahead.


Ruth Skilbeck, PhD is an author, artist, and freelance photo- journalist. Her latest novel Australian Fugue: Missing a psychological mystery is coming out in October.


REFERENCES:

Taking Responsibility: conditions and circumstances at Australia’s Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.

The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014) Australian Human Rights Commission

Rose, Sally, ‘Hesta dumps Transfield citing detention centre abuses’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 18, 2015

Press Release National Council of Churches in Australia, ‘Transfield awarded yet another 5 years to mismanage offshore detention centres,’ 31 August 2015

#19 BoS Working Group

Blog created by artists involved in the 19th Biennale of Sydney to discuss the call to boycott the Biennale over its sponsor Transfield's involvement in offshore mandatory detention.”


Skilbeck, Ruth, An Art Critic’s Diary, The Daily Fugue, coverage of the Biennale Boycott 8 February- 19 March 2014  
‘Biennale Artists Call to Cut Ties with Transfield Sponsorship’, 20.2.2014


Photograph © Copyright Ruth Skilbeck 2014
Libia Castro and Olafur Olafsson, with Refugee Art Project artist, trauma psychologist, and art work at Sydney College of the Arts, March 6, 2014.

News Release
Transfield Services preferred tenderer for DIBP contract
Monday, August 31, 2015
http://www.transfieldservices.com/news/transfield-services-preferred-tenderer-for-dibp-contract#sthash.cNQoqS7A.dpuf


Border Force Act Shoots the Messenger- But Why?


Ruth Skilbeck

September 9, 2015

The seemingly endlessly circular public and humanitarian discussions of policies over how “irregular” entry refugees are treated began most strongly in Australia at the beginning of the century, in August 2001, with the Howard government’s refusal to give permission to enter Australian waters to the Tampa, a Norwegian boat that saved 433 people when their boat was in distress, hundreds of miles off the coast. Australian authorities had conveyed the distress call to the Tampa and like any responsible ship captain in such a situation Captain Arne Rinnan wanted to bring them to safety. They were in Indonesian waters, and some of the ‘boat people’ were threatening ‘jump overboard’. He intended to land them on nearby land, Christmas Island.  But his request to enter Australian waters was refused. Captain Rinnan decided, for reasons of the safety of his passengers to continue as people were in distress; he did not have life jackets and provisions for more than 40 people on his ship, the number it was licensed to carry. Australian SAS boarded the ship.

New Zealand took in 131 of the asylum seekers, the rest were taken to Nauru; PM John Howard said they could never come to Australia. This was the start of the Pacific Solution, which has created migration “zones of excision” excising the northern coastal borders and waters from Australia’s “migration zone” to deter arrivals of asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers in the excision zone cannot access Australia’s migration determination system. They are transferred to the Australian-run detention centre camps in Papua New Guinea’s Nauru, and Manus Island, which reopened under the Rudd-Gillard Labor government, that have been denounced by the United Nations for not processing any claims for refugee status, and failure to care for the asylum seekers.  (There have also been reports of towing back boats to Indonesia and the Australian government paying $30,000 to tow back a boat).

Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the AHR Commission, was verbally attacked for months this year, told the government had “lost confidence” in her and urged to resign, when the report she oversaw The Forgotten Children (2014) was released, detailing abuse of children in the camps including sexual and physical assault. She refused to resign under political pressure for to do so she said in her appearance in the Senate committee “would undermine the independence of the commission.”

Whereas Australia’s two major parties have a unilateral approach to refugee issues, the Greens have consistently demanded a more humane policy and are calling on the Australian Government in the ongoing crisis displacing millions of Syrian people fleeing the murderous rampages of IS and US bombings (soon to be joined by Australia) to increase intake of refugees and release Syrian asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island detention centres for refugee processing in Australia.

Fourteen years ago, with the horrors of the September 11 attacks weeks away, the Tampa incident created a political expediency, which was seized upon and has shaped the tough politics of not treating irregular asylum seekers according to international law that states people in fear of their lives have a right to flee, and be resettled in a country that is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention which Australia is.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights defines a refugee as “a person who…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” It is this definition that has been incorporated into Australia’s 1958 Migration Act.

Many with a moral conscience including the 51 artists who boycotted the 2014 Sydney Biennale over links to detention centre profits funding by Transfield, and was effective in pressing for the ending of those ties, and the National Council of Churches in Australia Refugee Taskforce, oppose Australia’s hard line approach, to what is now the world’s major humanitarian issue of asylum for refugees. But since the Tampa incident part of the rhetorical approach of the government has been to refuse to listen.

Following the Australian Human Rights Inquiry and report, and the recent Senate Inquiry and report into abuses and the stream of whistle-blower reports of murder, sexual abuse of children, girls, women, men, and drugs in exchange for sex with children and women, in the detention camps, the Border Force Act was brought in on July 1.

This forbids any workers in detention centres to talk about abuse they witness, with a two-year jail sentence, in an attempt to gag doctors, nurses, community and social workers, as well as security and management.

The Papua New Guinea government has recently raised the cost of applying for a visa for media to report on the camp on Nauru from $200 to $8000, if refused it is not refunded. This is clearly designed to act as a deterrent.

In August, Transfield Services announced the expected renewal of its five-contract. “This company was paid $1.2 billion by Australian tax payers to manage these gulags on Manus Island and Nauru. Transfield and their sub-contractors should have been punished by their poor performance, not rewarded!” said Sister Brigid Arthur, a regular visit to mainland detention centres who works with the women and children who are victims of sexual assault on Nauru.

At the same time the global refugee debate is igniting the world in new dialogues.

Ruth Skilbeck, PhD, is an author, arts writer and freelance journalist. Her latest book Missing is coming out soon.

References:

Skilbeck, Ruth, ‘Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: A Critical Fugal Analysis’, in ed. John Nguyet Erni, Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations Routledge, 2014 (fourth edition).

Brennan, Frank, Tampering with Asylum, University Queensland Press, 2003


Press Release National Council of Churches in Australia, ‘Transfield awarded yet another 5 years to mismanage offshore detention centres,’ 31 August 2015

Michael Gordon, Sarah Whyte, ‘Defiant Gillian Triggs resists pressure from Abbott government to resign’ The Sydney Morning Herald online, 25 February 2015.

Taking Responsibility: conditions and circumstances at Australia’s Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Regional_processing_Nauru/Regional_processing_Nauru/Final_Report

Friday, 18 September 2015

Daily Fugue: Sydney Biennale Artists Response to Cutting Ties with Transfield...

Reposting this article link, as it is back in the news, with the mounting local fury in Newcastle at the revelations that the University of Newcastle has recently entered into a contract for management of its buildings and infrastructures with Transfield Services, the controversial detention camps manager, an $88 million  5 year contract with the University of Newcastle
Last year a group of 51 international artists successfully boycotted the Sydney Biennal in which they were representing their countries from around the world, until it severed its sponsorship ties with Transfield.
 Last month HESTA one of the 'big 4' super funds divested Transfield on the same grounds of its links to detention camps human rights abuses.


Click on link to go to article or find it in the side bar to the right of this post (March 9 2014)
The Daily Fugue: World Exclusive-Sydney Biennale Artists Response to Cutting Ties w...: Sydney Biennale Artists Response to Cutting Ties with 'Detention Camps' Sponsor By Ruth Skilbeck,  9.3.2014 &q...

We Must Not Excise Our Free Speech in Migration 'Zones of Excision'


Check back for the full article to be published soon.



Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, was verbally attacked for months this year, told the government had “lost confidence” in her and urged to resign, when the report she oversaw The Forgotten Children (2014) was released, detailing abuse of children in the detention centre camps on Manus Island and Nauru and managed by Transfield Services. The abuse referred to in the report included sexual and physical assault. Gillian Triggs refused to give in, be quiet and resign under political pressure, for to do so, she said in her appearance in the Senate committee, “would undermine the independence of the commission.”

Following the Australian Human Rights Inquiry and report, and the recent Senate Inquiry and report into abuses and the stream of whistle-blower reports of murder, sexual abuse of children, girls, women, men, and peddling drugs in exchange for sex with children and women, in the detention camps, the Border Force Act was brought in on July 1.

This forbids workers in detention centres to talk about abuse they witness, with the risk of a two-year jail sentence as punishment, in an attempt to gag doctors, nurses, community and social workers, as well as security and management.

The Papua New Guinea government has recently raised the cost of applying for a visa for media to report on the camp on Nauru from $200 to $8000, if refused it is not refunded. This is clearly designed to act as a deterrent.

The full story will be published soon, watch this space for details.
By Ruth Skilbeck, PhD, is an author, arts writer and journalist. Her latest book Missing is coming out soon.

References:

Skilbeck, Ruth, ‘Exiled Writers, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Movements in Australia: A Critical Fugal Analysis’, in ed. John Nguyet Erni, Cultural Studies of Rights: Critical Articulations Routledge, 2014 (fourth edition).

Brennan, Frank, Tampering with Asylum, University Queensland Press, 2003


Press Release National Council of Churches in Australia, ‘Transfield awarded yet another 5 years to mismanage offshore detention centres,’ 31 August 2015

Michael Gordon, Sarah Whyte, ‘Defiant Gillian Triggs resists pressure from Abbott government to resign’ The Sydney Morning Herald online, 25 February 2015.

Taking Responsibility: conditions and circumstances at Australia’s Regional Processing Centre in Nauru.