Q for Sarah: Should we make these Q&A available on the artists’ committee website?
The NGV’s contract with Wilson Security is an interim contract.
We understand that the current contract with Wilson is an interim contract and that the NGV is currently negotiating a longer term contract for security provision. What we require is for the NGV rule out the continuation of a partnership with Wilson Security.
We have some questions of our own for the NGV. Who approved the decision and was there any sort of review process? Were those who made the decision to do business with Wilson aware of its human rights record? Does the gallery have any ethical standards that they expect their contractors and suppliers to meet?
Why wasn’t the tender made public and why, as we understand is the case, were security guards at the gallery were explicitly instructed not to disclose the name of their employer?
We'd like to sit down with the people at the NGV to discuss these matters.
The Wilson Security contract is with the State Government not the NGV.
The NGV is a State institution, and the Victorian State Government currently holds multiple contracts with Wilson at various sites. Whether the contract is procured via the State Government or directly with NGV management, the site for this contract and therefore the site of our concern as artists, is the NGV. For the horrific human right abuses committed by Wilson, we believe no-one should do business with Wilson.
Does Wilson's announcement last year that it would not renew its Manus Island and Nauru security contracts this October mitigate any of your concerns about human rights abuses detailed in the Nauru files?
Of course we know that Wilson made a decision back in 2016 to complete its contract and not to continue offering its services at the Manus Island or Nauru detention centres beyond October 2017. But October is too late for Hamed Shamshiripour. October is too late for Reza Berati. October is too late for Hamid Kehazaei, and for Faysal Ishak Ahmed, and for Omid Masoumali.
And of course, we also know Wilson’s decision was not based on ethics. Rather, it was an attempt to limit the horrendous brand damage the company suffered once the Nauru files were leaked last year.
This is a company leaving a trail of human rights abuses, producing well-documented trauma, even today, as it winds up its contracts in offshore detention. Wilson had five years to get out of the offshore detention business. During this time the detrimental effects of their enforcement of this cruel policy have been widely reported. Their alleged assaults are not isolated incidents, but reveal an endemic culture of violence and corruption. Wilson failed in its duty of care to detainees, and then attempted to cover up those failings. Why would the NGV support such a company?
Does their imminent departure allow us to turn a blind eye from this? Take as a comparison, a company that was known to be using slave labour, but planning to stop some time in the near future. Would that company be an appropriate choice of contractor for a public institution? This is the same sort of issue. Slave labour is human rights abuse. So is indefinite detention.
Where do we draw the line? We struggle to think of a less ethical company than Wilson. The human rights abuses committed by Wilson Security are systematic and ongoing, and are implemented under a policy that is inherently abusive.
At this very time, Wilson Security is participating in the forced removal of detainees from the Manus Island detention centre, cutting off water and power to the compounds. Wilson Security is right now busy carrying out the government’s policy of forcing the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island to face hostile and dangerous opposition from locals who are known to be uncomfortable with their presence on the island.
Who is the Artists’ Committee?
The Artists’ Committee is an informal association of emerging, mid-career and established artists and arts workers in Australia.
All members of the Artists' Committee are signatories to the letter. However, not all signatories are part of the Artists’ Committee.
We have chosen not to foreground our names, so as not to prioritise our individual voices over the voices from wider communities that are calling for an end to the abuse of refugees and people seeking asylum.
Membership of the Artists' Committee is fluid and informal, and attributing a limited set of names to the group in this context felt reductive. That said, we are also not hiding. If it is important to you to know who we are, or if you have any questions, please get in touch: email@example.com.
Offshore detention is a government policy, not NGVs policy.
We understand that offshore detention is government policy, and that it’s supported by both major parties. That doesn’t make it right. The NGV is a public and government-funded institution. That doesn’t make it a mouthpiece for the government. It should demonstrate its independence and its moral vision by ensuring the highest standards of institutional social responsibility along all its supply chains, including security provision.
What do you think are your chances of success with the gallery?
Over 1400 people put their name to the letter, representing a cross section of the gallery's community - Victorian, interstate and international artists, regular visitors to the gallery and arts industry professionals, as well as many NGV members. So on that basis, we think the chances of success are very good.
All of us are dismayed that the NGV has chosen to do business with Wilson. We’re talking about a company whose numerous and well-publicised ethical breaches while managing security at Australia's reprehensible offshore detention centres amount to nothing less than human rights abuse. The instances of sexual assault and gross neglect are on the public record. The fact that human rights abuse has occurred and is still occurring in Australia’s offshore detention centres is not just our view - it's a view supported by the findings and statements of the UN Human Rights Commission, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the International Red Cross, and Amnesty International, among others.
Given the level of concern about this issue, we expect the gallery to listen to the artists, arts workers, visitors and members calling for it to sever its ties to the detention industry.
Based on the success of recent artist groups focussing on similar ethical imperatives—including the Sydney Biennale boycott over its connection with Transfield Services, and UK artist group Liberate Tate who succeeded in terminating Tate Gallery’s endorsement of fossil fuel company, BP—the artists expect that the NGV will listen to its audience’s voice calling for it to end its ties with the detention industry.
Why should a Gallery make moral choices?
We ask the NGV to live up to its vision of “creating an inspiring future,” to position itself as a moral leader in our community and to act in the interest of democratic and humanitarian values. Our state and national art galleries are supposed to represent the best of us as human beings and the best of our society. The NGV should send a powerful message that we will not tolerate the continuing culture of abuse against refugees and people seeking asylum.