The Biennale cannot shift the blame on mandatory detention

A response to the Biennale Board of Directors

The incarceration of asylum seekers must end regardless of whether or not it is bi-partisan government policy. The human suffering caused by mandatory detention is clear, even as mistruths and secrecy prevail regarding the situation of offshore detention centres.

The government relies on contractors to operate detention centres, and detention centres are a source of multi-million dollar contracts for corporations.* As of Saturday, Transfield Services runs the Manus Island detention centre, and they are picking up a proportion of staff from previous contractors.

The centre has been the scene of appalling bloodshed and violence in the last week, including the death of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.

Transfield Services is also expanding the detention services that it provides at Nauru. There is no ambiguity about Transfield’s involvement in the privatised detention industry in Australia. Transfield must cease its role in enabling and perpetuating the horror of detention centres.

Transfield Services and Transfield Holdings are partners in the Transfield Foundation, which supports the Biennale of Sydney. The Chairman of the Biennale, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, is also the Executive Director of Transfield Holdings and a Trustee of the Transfield Foundation.

Asylum seekers are damaged by mandatory detention. The Biennale Board’s claim that they, along with Biennale artists, are ‘collateral damage’ in a complex argument is baseless.

The argument is about the continuation of mandatory detention. It is the Biennale Board which has placed the Biennale and all its stakeholders in a situation where participating in the Biennale is now part of the financial circuits of the system of mandatory detention. The Biennale receives funds from detention profits through the Transfield brand. By furthering the cultural capital of Transfield, artists and other stakeholders are now implicated in the system of mandatory detention.

What needs to be done is clear. Transfield Services must withdraw from the detention industry, or the Biennale Board must end its sponsorship by the Transfield Foundation.

The Biennale Board’s statement of unequivocal support and gratitude for Transfield’s continued patronage is deeply regrettable.

So long as the Biennale Board continues to implicate the Biennale in the system of mandatory detention through its relationship with Transfield, I will be joining other community members in boycotting the Biennale.

End the system of mandatory detention.
Disrupt Transfield.
Boycott the Biennale.

Biennale Board of Directors

The Board’s statement can be seen here


On 24/02/2014, Transfield announced on the stock exchange that their contract to provide ‘Garrison and Welfare Services’ on Manus Island and Nauru, already worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is valued at $1.22 Billion. See the ASX statement here

The Biennale cannot shift the blame on mandatory detention

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