From late 2013 xBorderOps, along with other groups such as RISE: Refugees Survivors and Ex-detainees, has been running boycott and divestment campaigns against the financial and cultural supply chain of the Australian refugee detention industry.
We are reissuing the call for local and overseas visitors to respect the boycott of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) over its role in culturewashing the detention industry.
We appreciate that it is not in the interest of FODI organisers to make its detention industry connections clear, and that many speakers would have booked their attendance without a complete picture of what they were signing up to. Nevertheless, experience has shown that merely voicing one’s concerns from inside the event does not produce change. Given the information below, we ask that speakers refuse to offer the value of their work to this industry, withdraw from FODI, and make other arrangements.
FODI serves to benefit one of the key figures behind Australia’s asylum detention regime. As with the successful boycott of the 2014 Sydney Biennale, disrupting FODI will impact on the broader supply chain of the detention industry.
FODI was founded and is run by The Ethics Centre (previously the St James Ethics Centre). One of the centre’s Directors is Australian Major General (ret) Andrew James (‘Jim’) Molan. Molan co-designed ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ (OSB), Australia’s military-led border program of forcible turn backs, remote island detention and regional resettlement. Following the 2013 Australian election, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott appointed Molan as his Special Envoy for OSB, a full-time position to implement OSB in the Asia-Pacific region.
There has been vocal public criticism of The Ethic Centre’s association with Molan since 2014. Yet the Ethics Centre has defended Molan’s ongoing involvement, with Executive Director Dr Simon Longstaff stating that Molan is unable to influence the centre’s general policy positions. The issue, however, is not what Molan does for The Ethics Centre but how The Ethics Centre helps Molan.
Along with other Australian political figures, Molan actively promotes OSB both in Australia and overseas. Last year Molan criticised Europe’s “incompetent” refugee policies and stated that Europe should look to OSB as a model:
What I’m saying is that when you’re ready to control your borders, come and talk to the Australian government because we have all the experience and we know it can be done. – Jim Molan
By including Molan on its Board, The Ethics Centre legitimises Molan as someone who has something of value to contribute to a conversation about ethics, despite being one of the key designers and promoters of Australia’s current border policies. The Ethics Centre adds symbolical value and social capital to Molan as a public figure.
Molan has built a reputation as an expert commentator on military-related matters, including by selling the ‘success’ of OSB and leveraging his association with The Ethics Centre. Molan’s other military ‘achievements’ include leading operations for Coalition forces in Iraq in 2004-5; in response to the recently released Chilcot Inquiry, Molan stated that he has “no regrets at all” about invading Iraq. In 2015, Molan was also appointed as a consultant in a High Level Military Group that prepared a report for the pro-Israel lobby group Friends of Israel Initiative in relation to Israel’s conduct in the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Most recently, Molan was a Liberal Party candidate for the Australian Senate in the 2016 election. He is considered to be an influential voice within the Coalition due to his involvement with OSB and relationship with Tony Abbott.
Molan is not The Ethics Centre’s only connection to the detention industry. Douglas Sneddon was the Treasurer of The Ethics Centre until leaving the Board in 2014. Sneddon was also a Director of Broadspectrum (previously Transfield) from 2010 until May 2016. Broadspectrum holds the multi-billion dollar contract to run the asylum detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island.
The Ethics Centre has also hosted Diane Smith-Gander, Chair of Broadspectrum, as a guest speaker at one of its IQ2 debates in 2014 alongside other figures with a record of opposition to BDS style tactics.
Criticism of The Ethics Centre’s links to the detention industry is neither new, nor is it any less urgent today. So long as Molan is on the board of The Ethics Centre, FODI will continue to function as an exercise in culturewashing for the detention industry. When FODI stages discussions on refugee policy, such as this year’s all-white Can we solve the asylum seeker crisis? and Crisis without borders panels, the profit and cultural capital generated by FODI benefits people like Molan who are responsible for the militarisation of Australia’s borders. It also sends a message to the public and other organisations that it is acceptable to maintain relationships with the detention industry.
The Ethics Centre’s defence of Molan has shown that they are unlikely to remove him as a director unless there is significant impact on the success of their events and their overall brand. For these reasons we are calling on FODI speakers to withdraw from the event and for audiences to refuse to attend. In simple terms, whatever may attract you to this event is there to solicit your implicit support for the detention industry. This is precisely what must be refused.
Disrupt detention. Boycott #FODI.
 https://xborderoperationalmatters.wordpress.com/tag/festival-of-dangerous-ideas/; https://pussyethics.wordpress.com/; https://newmatilda.com/2014/08/29/dangerous-idea-about-festival-dangerous-ideas/; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/29/should-pussy-riot-boycott-the-festival-of-dangerous-ideas; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/dangerous-ideas-speakers-australias-asylum-seeker-policies-are-cruel-and-unacceptable