Biennale of Sydney Opening

(7pm, Saturday 22 March 2014, Carriageworks)

Thank you Lisa (Havilah). Hello, everyone - welcome to the opening.

I'd also like to acknowledge Rupert Myer, Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts, the Biennale board members and the many generous supporters, international visitors, CarriageWorks board and staff, and of course, the artists.

I'm delighted to open the Biennale at CarriageWorks.

It's a great venue - not every important cultural event in Sydney happens by the harbour! - and from now until early June, it will host a rich array of offerings.

There is a dedicated cinema space where audiences can enjoy long-form experimental or documentary-style works.

On March 24, there will be a panel discussions about artists who embed themselves into communities; there will be performances of a commissioned work by Tacita Dean; and a forum exploring the relationship between cinema and contemporary art among others.

Every two years the Biennale brings a special excitement to the City; it reaffirms our commitment to art, and to artists, and it underscores the vital role that the arts play in building a city that is dynamic, creative and an enriching place to live and work.

That is our vision for Sydney, and we are proud to support the Biennale in helping us achieve those goals and to continue our support. We are also proud of our initiatives in providing low-rent studio and living quarters in Council owned properties to encourage artists and to promote their work.

This year, as we all know, a number of artists withdrew in protest at Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

On the issue of refugee treatment, I have written to the Federal Government on behalf of the City of Sydney protesting about its cruel refugee policies. I believe they shame us all.

The effect of the protests on the Biennale now and in the future is being hotly debated. Whatever your opinion on the matter, I want to recognise as Lord Mayor of Sydney, the massive contribution by generations of the Belgiorno-Nettis family to the arts of this City, this State and to our nation. At this, the opening of the 19th Biennale, I pay special tribute to Luca who passion this is.

Our Biennale is world class, and I urge you to see it here at Carriageworks and also at the other venues, principally at the Art Gallery of NSW, MCA and Cockatoo Island. See the art, participate where you can and tell your friends.

I am pleased to declare the Biennale at CarriageWorks officially open.

While I respect the right of artists to protest, I say we would do better to take the battle up to where it belongs - a Federal government and opposition who have both pursued this inhumane agenda.

Following agreement at a recent Council meeting, I have written to the Federal Government to voice our community's concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers.

Their so-called "solutions" shame us all. People - fellow human beings, many in dire need, are bundled away out of sight, away from any hope of the "fair go" Australians believe is our birth-right.

I can only hope that we quickly rediscover our belief in a fair go for all.

I am also sorry that Luca Belgiorno-Nettis has resigned as Chair of the Biennale.

I believe that the majority of people who care about the cultural life of our city are grateful for the contribution Luca and the Belgiorno-Nettis family have made over many years.

More than ever, we need artists who will continue to challenge, to question and to remind us of our common humanity.

I hope you will all become involved in this wonderful cultural event, and that you will be frequent visitors to CarriageWorks for the duration of the Biennale.

I'm pleased to declare Biennale at CarriageWorks officially open.