As I was kicking back in front of the footy on Friday night I couldn’t help spare a thought for the families gathered around the idiot box on the other side of the world in Afghanistan watching a telemovie that you and I paid to create especially for them.
In all honesty though, The Journey wasn’t so much a telemovie but a full-throated piece of propaganda warning the vulnerable and impoverished people of dusty old, war-mangled Afghanistan not to come to our beautiful, glistening, conflict-free, wealthy home that’s girt by sea - at least not by boat anyway.
Shot on location in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, The Journey traces the (mis)fortunes of a group of asylum seekers who decide not to join the orderly queue at the Australian Embassy in Kabul that promptly delivers imperilled, persecuted people Down Under. No, they choose the dangerous route. Why? They want to escape the Taliban of course. ASAP.
Judging by its trailer, The Journey – which has also screened in Iran, Iraq and Pakistan – is meant to frighten the pants off people who already have the pants frightened off them every day when they wake up under a regime that enthusiastically embraces slaughtering civilians, violently oppressing women and torture.
The sub-text appears clear: you're better off staying put and waiting patiently for years to have your claim for political asylum processed than trust a people smuggler to get you here. It's not clear from the trailer, however, whether the side-plot of having your head cut off or your family blown up by the Taliban while you wait is explored.
Gritty and tense, the trailer features lots of frightened, desperate looking people, plenty of crying and an urgent sense of ever-present danger – just like your average Wednesday morning in Kandahar I imagine.
Needless to say, The Journey wasn’t made by Baz Luhrmann. No, it was the Abbott-era brainchild of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection - and it cost Australian taxpayers $6 million! That's apparently more than the combined budgets of the Australian classics Wolf Creek, The Castle and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Can't wait to see if it wins an AFI.
Impresario Immigration Minister Peter Dutton & Co. handed the Sydney-based Put It Out There Pictures $4.34 million to produce The Journey – which apparently took a year to shoot – and then threw a further $1.63 million at another Australian firm, Lapis Communications, to promote and advertise the movie.
Sadly we’ll never know what Margaret and David think about The Journey but at least we know how Put It Out There Pictures feels about its handiwork. Far from being entertainment, “The film aimed to educate and inform audiences in source countries about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hard line policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters,” the company's website says.
Simply put The Journey is a vehicle that advertises “futility” and “hard line policies”. In other words it’s pure propaganda. Propaganda is defined as “information, particularly of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” Way to go, team Australia!
I realise we live in a complicated world in complicated times, but it strikes me as exceedingly daft that we spent so much making a slick, fictional feature film to frighten potential refugees, when all we have to do is show them the reality of our offshore detention program.
Why not simply make a series of short ads for Afghan TV that show people being abused and sexually assaulted in our camps on Nauru and Manus Island? Let’s screen footage of people sewing their lips together through desperation, depression and despair. I imagine it would be cheap and easy to overlay in-camp footage with statistics like the number of deaths of asylum seekers in Australia's offshore camps and how many children we keep behind bars while we decide whether or not they're "genuine" refugees.
But apparently telemovies get the message across better. As an Immigration spokesman explained to Fairfax, "Independent research in these countries has revealed misunderstandings and false rumours about Australia's policy, and a perception that Australia remains a preferred destination country for those seeking to travel illegally by boat. Initial feedback from viewers has been positive."
Positive feedback? Does that mean The Journey is rating well? Or are viewers being polled on whether they’d be more likely or less likely to let their daughters’ lives be crushed by the Taliban than try to take them to Australia by boat after watching The Journey?
That's not the only thing that puzzles me. Why, I wonder, do we even need to screen propaganda in Afghanistan – let alone $6 million worth – when our most recently overthrown Prime Minister-cum-back-bencher-cum-sad-face-cum-nuisance, Tony Abbott MP, keeps reminding us every five minutes that he stopped the boats? Not that Malcolm Turnbull, no way!
Remember? Using high-powered, on-water, hush-hush, operational, sovereign bordered, secret men's business it was indeed Kommandant Abbott and his trusted Immigration/Propaganda Minister Scott "May 10" Morrison who STOPPED! THE! BOATS!
So ... ah, what's with spending $6 million of taxpayers' money to make a movie that tells people not to come here by boat? They've been stopped, right? The boats? Tony Abbott did it. He said so four times last week.
Whatever the answer to that apparent anomaly, the Government must now turn its attention to spending more of our hard-earned on the arts/propaganda. You may or may not have read that we'll also soon be parting with about $30,000 to commission a painting of the utterly disgraced former Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop MP, to be hung alongside other former speakers in the House of Representatives.
Again, I reckon we can get those costs down. Let's start by asking, does the nation really need this portrait? If there's agreement that, yes, Australia definitely does require a big picture of Bronwyn Bishop staring across corridor in Canberra, let's find some savings. How about a photo instead? Perhaps Mrs Bishop could supply one of her own liking for free and the taxpayer could pay to have it enlarged to the requisite size at Harvey Norman.