Turnbull, Transfield, The New Democracy Foundation, & the vicious ingratitude of artists

11 Mar

Boycott Biennale


In the last two days Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and former Chairman of the Sydney Biennale and Transfield Executive Director, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, have provided the Australian public with an unusually revealing insight into what the ruling class expect from the artists they support.

Belgiorno-Nettis is an investor in the Transfield company recently awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide “Garrison and Welfare” services to the Australian government’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, commented on earlier by No Place for Sheep here.  It seems that wherever one goes, from the St James Ethic’s Centre, to the Black Dog Institute, to the Business Council of Australia, to the New Democracy Foundation (see below) to the arts, one encounters a director of Transfield.

Ten artists withdrew their work from the Biennale because the event was heavily sponsored by Transfield, and the ten considered themselves to be benefiting from profits gained from the exploitation of human misery. Transfield was a co-founder of the Biennale some 41 years ago, but has only become problematic since it was awarded the government contracts for Nauru, and most recently Manus.

Turnbull described the artists as being “viciously ungrateful” to their benefactor.

On Radio National’s Books and Arts program today, Belgiorno-Nettis expressed his revulsion at the allegedly personal nature of the attacks on him and his family by “radical protestors” against the Manus and Nauru prisons, and when asked by presenter Michael Cathcart what he thought about the boycotting artists returning to the Biennale now Transfield was no longer involved, stated that as far as he was concerned they weren’t welcome back. They had, he insisted, used “guerilla tactics” against him.

The Transfield Executive Director’s explanation of his position was disappointingly self-indulgent. His outrage at being personally “insulted” is more than a trifle ironic, given the depths of misery and torment suffered by those legally seeking refuge from persecution, who are illegally imprisoned in the tropical hell holes (“garrisons”) overseen by Transfield.

Here is the letter written by the artists explaining their position. I can find nothing insulting to Belgiorno-Nettis or his family, and given Transfield’s withdrawal I see no reason at all why the artists should not now participate.

Neither can I find anything “viciously ungrateful” in the text of this letter.

Turnbull and Belgiorno-Nettis are as one in their contemptuous attitude to artists who disagree with both government policies, and the corporate support of those policies for profit.

Whether you agree or disagree with the stand taken by the ten artists, what the saga has revealed is the attitude of the ruling class to artists it supports. Both the Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis outrage at the audacity of artists supported by the establishment who defy that establishment is extraordinary, and the threat, loyally promoted by their middle class emulators, that now corporate sponsorship will become dangerously problematic because of this rebellion, is utterly predictable.

That the establishment’s reaction to robust critique of its policies and actions is outrage at the manner in which the challenge was mounted, and outrage that artists should have the nerve to bite the hand that feeds them, says everything about the lack of spine and imagination in the ruling class. The expectation that artists ought to be “grateful” to the degree that they keep their mouths shut when faced with intolerable and inhuman cruelty  shows a complete lack of understanding of what art is about, though I’m certain both Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis have art on their walls, and perceive themselves as cultured.

Belgiorno-Nettis is also the founder of The New Democracy Foundation, whose mission is to forge a new path to democracy through a “better system.” Lucy Turnbull, wife of Malcolm, is also a  member of this Foundation, along with other recognisable names. The Foundation’s mission statement:  The new Democracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organisation aiming to identify improvements to our democratic process. We aim to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and move out of the “continuous campaign” cycle.

It seems to me that the ten artists were peacefully exercising their democratic right to protest injustice with the most powerful means at their disposal – their work. According to Belgiorno-Nettis’ founder’s message, his New Democracy Foundation supports the right of people to express their opinions, and then for those opinions to be argued, Athenian fashion:  The Athenians called their discussion group The Council: 500 men [sic] selected by lot; 50 from each of the 10 tribes.  In this way the Council was a mirror of the population at large: a mini-public.  No one person, or tribe, could bully any other, because they were all equally represented. The Council’s job was to propose the laws for city, after which another discussion group, called the Assembly, would then meet and vote.  Any man [sic] could attend the Assembly and speak and then after all the arguments for and against, a vote would be taken, and that would become the law. They called this system Demokratia – meaning rule of the people.

Of course, trying to avoid dirty money must be an almost impossible task. However, the direct nature of the link between Transfield and the vile conditions in which those legally seeking asylum in this country are held is impossible to ignore. Australian politicians have singled out a group of people who they have determined are not deserving of decent, humane treatment. The group singled out is one whose members are almost entirely fleeing persecution of the most extreme kind. They are not criminals. They have committed no illegal act. They have requested protection from their persecutors. In response, they have been indefinitely detained, attacked, wounded and in one case, murdered, in extremely hostile and isolated conditions.

The company responsible for these “garrisons” and the “welfare” of those imprisoned, is Transfield. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, as an investor in the company, makes money from the cruel injustice wrought upon asylum seekers by Australian politicians.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation more deserving of protest by artists, and anybody else.

20 Responses to “Turnbull, Transfield, The New Democracy Foundation, & the vicious ingratitude of artists”

  1. Marilyn March 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    I think his father started Transfield, a company who cannot run a bus service in Adelaide and ever have a bus on time, even when only 5 minutes from the CBD.

    It am constantly revolted with the lawlessness of our corporations who happily make money from slavery, human trafficking and murder.


  2. samjandwich March 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    Thanks for that expose Jennifer. Deplorable business.

    What I think is interesting is that the “ruling classes” (nice put-down there) appear not to realise that what they are crying about is something that they themselves have far more investment in than the artists do. The great thing about artists is that they will always be artists, and will doubtless carry on making art regardless of the opportunities-or-otherwise for having their works seen by the public.

    Art festivals are often started and driven by great ideas and great people, but their facilitation to get bigger through corporate sponsorship, while doubtless welcomed in good faith by the artists and organisers, needs to be done in a way that is acceptable to the artists, or else it essentially undermines the reasons for its’ being offered in the first place. To sponsor an artistic event is a privilege afforded to funding sources which can prove themselves to be acceptable to the organisers (and there’s very little point in speculating on what their interest are in doing so), but is ultimately unnecessary for the purpose of holding an event. All that will happen is that events will be held in smaller venues and promoted less, so that the people who stand to gain (and I don’t just mean financially – a warm glow being priceless and all) from being involved probably won’t find out about it… and likewise the public have only themselves to blame if the miss out, as this will only be a result of their disinterest and thoughtlessness.

    So essentially we have the unedifying spectacle of grown men crying over a situation of their own making, and in which they come out as the biggest of losers (though I doubt any garrisoning contracts will be lost over this, nor asylum-seekers granted their rights, so they haven’t lost much in the scheme of things – making their self-pity just a little bit more sinister).

    Which could be a great subject for an art installation! What is the sound of a foot that shoots itself?! Here we see why I’m a policy analyst and not an artist! So I better get back to it.


    • paul walter March 13, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      This raises an interesting question.

      Are they belly aching at the artists because they are”ungrateful”, or because any resolution of the asylum seeker issue could threaten profits..


      • paul walter March 13, 2014 at 10:54 am #

        I can add Turnbull and his wife are no strangers when it comes to attacks on free speech,

        They were key players in the Zionist attacks on Prof Stuart Rees and Dr Hanan Ashrawi when the panel awarded Ashrawi the Sydney Peace Prize a decade ago.


        • Marilyn March 13, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

          Glad you remembered that too Paul, it was an outrageous act of Zionist bastardry by the Turncows.


          • paul walter March 14, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

            And didn’t it keep up, week after week.

            Lie after lie after lie after lie after lie.


  3. doug quixote March 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    I think they are barking up the wrong tree. Mandatory detention was designed to prevent the selective release of irregular immigrants into the community. Guess which ones got released?

    The scheme worked quite well when numbers were small enough to enable speedy processing, but as with any such scheme it can get clogged and overloaded once numbers increase.

    The artists’ hearts are in the right place, and the whole asylum seeker regime as it now stands is in need of drastic overhaul.

    A good start would be to bring all those in detention onshore for processing. Minus the Transfield, GS4 or Serco guards, whatever they were, are now or may be.

    In brief it is not mandatory detention but the way it is abused that is the problem.


    • Marilyn March 12, 2014 at 2:09 am #

      No, it is the imprisonment of asylum seekers without charge. They system was started as a punishment for pesky Cambodians who didn’t believe that the Khmer Rouge were just naughty boys and fled to Australia.

      It has zero to do with selective release, it was about no release at all if they could hide the people and then forcibly deport them. Trouble is pesky lawyers got wind of the dirty deeds of the ALP and they were sprung.


      • doug quixote March 12, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

        Yes, that is one way to look at it.

        Thank you for the polite reply, by the way.


        • Marilyn March 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

          That is the facts laid out by many historians now. And the facts as stated by Hawke back in 1989 when he invented the notion of queue jumpers.


  4. hudsongodfrey March 11, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    At the very least the business model for these detention centres is at least as morally questionable as are private prisons. The longer people are detained with least justification then the more money they make. And our oversight of these matters? ….. Probably an operational matter I would imagine!


  5. Christine Says Hi March 11, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Seems to me Malcolm may have sniffed out that withdrawing one’s work is perilously close to withdrawing one’s labour. Such a breach of etiquette ~ especially when also mentioning unpleasant subjects in public. If such behaviour is permitted to continue unchecked, people might start joining unions and organising against the extremes of the ‘ruling classes’. I can readily understand Mal’s horror at such a thought …


    • Maria Crystal-Paige March 12, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

      If we’re talking human-rights here, all I can say is that if even a minute amount of the sustained outrage, passion, protest, debate, artistic expression, political discourse, focused on the human rights, suffering & plight of asylum seekers, was afforded to the scourge in our own communities, (not to mention the global epidemic), of violence by males against women & children, I would sleep better at night & probably have more friends, (& a sex life). The way I see it, is that most of the Planet’s serious problem’s are a result of male aggression/violence & their need to control & dominate. And until males on a global scale, (beginning with their own families/friends & communities), who are able, step up to the task, & protect those who are vulnerable to acts of violence, be real heroes & do what needs to be done to RESTRAIN/STOP other males from committing that violence, then we won’t as a human-race get very far in making the most vulnerable in our communities/homes/World any safer. Most violence by males against those who are more vulnerable, is committed because they know they can get away with it. Simple as that. AVO’s, the police, Patriarchal law, The United Nations, White Ribbon just don’t seem to be cutting it. I can understand Jennifer that you can barely handle even thinking about the issue of child abuse & family violence. Neither can I as I get older. Re-traumatizing. I think that shows just how powerful it is as a weapon & the extent of the damage. I just can’t handle victims of these crimes being further invisibilised & overlooked as to who “deserves” more help than who in this World. They don’t deserve it they desperately need it. As do asylum seekers. All seems to come back to the problem of male domination & violence in one form or another & how can it be stopped. For any of it’s failings, Feminism, has nonetheless made a profound difference to the quality of life for many on a global scale & is the only movement/philosophy that has helped this on-going global epidemic move forward in a positive way.


      • hudsongodfrey March 12, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

        I don’t think it helps to argue for better restraint if it comes in the form of meeting force with force. That way only leads to more force, which ultimately means violence, reduced freedoms and entrenched defensive mentalities. It makes far better sense to argue persuasively for changing the patterns that lead to violence in either sex.

        I was thinking about this earlier today in relation to politics as a whole, the way the economy is headed and the various policy platforms our esteemed government have mooted. It seems to me that they’re evoking the same class warfare agendas that have always accompanied economic rationalism. False promises of better times ahead in exchange for short term sacrifice and the notion that if your interests are elevated above your neighbour’s then society as a whole must somehow be better off. It’s divisive rubbish of course, and prone to involve targeting the usual suspects, unions, welfare recipients, minorities and greenies. But if we’re stupid enough to believe that it makes us comparatively well off to take away from the least of society’s members then we’ll fall for this crap every time!

        Where asylum seekers come in is that if it takes picking on refugees to give us a sense that we’re still a “Lucky Country” then this Banana Republic really is circling the drain!

        And yes Abbott is a bloke, but he’s pinched this lot from Thatcher’s play book lock stock and barrel, even while folks in the north of England and Scotland are still dancing on her grave!


      • doug quixote March 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm #

        I cannot agree that it is all down to men. Once women get into positions of power they behave in much the same way. And as women get closer to gender equality the closer their behaviour in power will equal that of men. There will probably always be some gender gap, in that men have higher levels of testosterone and androsterone.

        You refer to Jennifer’s experience, but if I recall correctly Jennifer is nearly as condemnatory of women as of men when it comes to abuse. No doubt she will correct me if I’m wrong.


        • hudsongodfrey March 12, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

          There is of course the time honoured argument that if patriarchy shapes the requirements for acceptance into roles that have traditionally been occupied by men then the women who occupy them will conform to its norms.

          Notwithstanding the fact that the roles themselves shape people who try to perform in them over any more extended period of time, I think the character of individuals should matter such that they’re judged on their merits rather than their gender once they’re in those roles. As for them getting there, I’ve no problem with promoting some form of help for more women to attain positions of prominence keeping equality in mind. If the evidence turns out to be that most are no better than their male counterparts then I’m not going to make some ridiculous claim that we dispense with the gender balance “experiment.” The argument that fairness is as fairness does should stand…..

          A woman has just as much right to fuck up the country as Tony Abbott does, and if only she’s not so comprehensively accomplished at that task then I think we’d all be enormously relieved 😉


          • doug quixote March 13, 2014 at 7:58 am #

            I was hoping for a better result as regards PM . . .

            As far as I am concerned, a bus driver, a lawyer, a politician has no gender; they are equally capable of doing the job.

            it is a matter of personal choice and personal aptitude, given sufficient intelligence and access to education and training.


            • hudsongodfrey March 13, 2014 at 9:25 am #

              In the cases of those professions I agree entirely, but in their jobs those people keep their political opinions mostly to themselves. The argument favouring more women in power might be made either from something like the American concept of “no taxation without representation” or as part of a wider push for more diversity within what again should ideally be representative leadership positions.

              When it comes to the diversity argument I’d be as quick to include and prioritise getting money out of politics, that being an even more pressing distortion of representative government than the absence of women is.


  6. ultracontemporary March 17, 2014 at 8:26 am #


    If artists start to boycott Biennales (like Sydney Biennale ) connected to breaking human rights,
    soon it wont be any Biennales left !!!





    check also
    THE NEXT DOCUMENTA SHOULD BE CURATED BY A TANK about documenta Kassel and proximity of weapon industry :

    Author of the Month @ ZKM Museum Karlsruhe

    Can an Art Show Like dOCUMENTA Be Dangerous ?

    Biennalist ( Istanbul / Venice // Manifesta / Sydney / Athens / Berlin )
    artists questioning Biennales intentions including work on gentrification , colonialism , connection with weapon industry

    by Biennalist 2010
    ( academy Emergency Art Sydney )



  1. A new low in corporate paranoia: Transfield, Manus & Nauru | No Place For Sheep - April 7, 2015

    […] there was the brou ha ha I wrote about here, surrounding Transfield’s support for the 2014 Sydney Biennale which caused several artists to […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: