Advertising | Metro Eireann | Top News | Contact Us
Governor Uduaghan awarded the 2013 International Outstanding Leadership Award  •   South African Ambassador to leave  •   Roddy's back with his new exclusive "Brown-Eyed Boy"  •  
Print E-mail

Asylum affects art in Australia

Last update - Saturday, March 1, 2014, 02:57 By Ronit Lentin

This is not a column about art depicting the asylum process, or about asylum seekers making art, but rather about the sinister connection between art sponsorship and the provision of detention services. Or more specifically, about the close – and abhorrent – link between the Sydney Biennale and its major founder sponsor, Transfield Services (Australia).

The Biennale of Sydney, to be held this year between 21 March and 9 June, is an international festival of contemporary art, held every two years. It is the largest and best-attended contemporary visual arts event in Australia and, alongside the Venice and São Paulo Biennales and Documenta, it is one of the longest-running exhibitions of its kind, and was the first biennale to be established in the Asia-Pacific region.
Since 2010, Transfield Services (Australia) has held a series of contracts for “garrison and welfare services” with the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection totalling over AUS$340m. Since 2013 it has a further series of contracts: one for $175m in February last year, and another interim contract announced in January this year whose scope extends beyond providing services by Transfield for the Melbourne and Nauru detention centres to the refugee detention centre located on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Put simply, Transfield’s involvement in migration detention has massively expanded in both financial terms and scope, from humble beginnings of around $40,000 for grounds maintenance in the Melbourne detention centre to contracts valued over $515m. And Transfield is now set to become the major contractor of Australia’s offshore detention centres. Thus, it is hugely benefiting from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s draconian policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore.
Only two per cent of the world’s asylum applications are made in Australia, and some 88 per cent of these applicants are recognised as refugees. This raises questions about Australia’s ‘policy innovation’, since 2013, of transferring asylum seekers who arrive by boat to an expanded facility at Manus Island and to the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru for offshore processing. Indeed, Australia has one of the strictest immigration detention regimes in the world.
Trying to reach Australia by boat is extremely hazardous: since 2009 some 600 people have killed en route to Australia’s shores. And yet detention is mandatory for maritime arrivals, is not subject to a time limit, and those arriving are unable to access the courts to challenge their detention. Furthermore, asylum seekers who are found to be genuine refugees will be settled not in Australia but in Papua New Guinea, under an agreement with that country’s government.
All of this makes Transfield’s sponsorship of the Sydney Biennale, and the fact that Luca Belgiorno-Nettis of Transfield is chair of the Biennale board, utterly untenable. Groups supporting asylum seekers such as Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Survivors and Ex-Detainees (Rise) and Border Operational Matters are calling on artists to boycott the biennale.
As several artists explain, Transfield is not simply funding the Biennale; it is accruing cultural value from the work and investments of artists. In other words, artists – and everyone else who helps to produce the Biennale – are contributing to Transfield’s brand, and are thus supporting Australia’s unacceptable detention policies.
In a letter to the Biennale, a group of well-known artists asked that the initiative withdraw from the current sponsorship arrangements with Transfield and seek to develop new ones. The question remains, however: what if the Biennale board refuses? Will these artists withdraw and boycott the event? Would you?

Ronit Lentin is associate professor of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin. Her column appears fortnightly in Metro Éireann

Latest News:
Latest Video News:
Photo News:
Kerry drinking and driving
How do you feel about the Kerry County Councillor\'s recent passing of legislation to allow a limited amount of drinking and driving?
I agree with the passing, it is acceptable
I disagree with the passing, it is too dangerous
I don\'t have a strong opinion either way
Quick Links