The Government’s Spending $4 Million To Make A Soap Opera Discouraging Asylum Seekers From Coming To Australia

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Australia’s ongoing national effort to pretend the entire rest of the world does not exist has yielded some pretty interesting thought bubbles from the Department of Immigration over the last couple of years. The infamous ‘No Way: You will not make Australia home’ campaign to deter asylum seekers from travelling to Australia by boat — part of which included the printing and distribution of a graphic novel showcasing how terrible Australia is to people — cost taxpayers a cool $22 million in the year leading up to August 2014, at least part of which was spent buying ads in domestic newspapers during an election campaign for some very good and not-at-all cynical reason. Back in 2011, a photo of an Australian government billboard warning of the dangers of coming to Australia in the Pakistani city of Quetta went viral because the billboard happened to overlook a town square where a suicide bombing killed at least 42 people, who undoubtedly appreciated the irony.

Now Immigration is expanding its area of operations into the movie business, as the ABC’s Lateline reported last night. The Department has spent over $4 million on commissioning a telemovie depicting the hardships and dangers people who flee to Australia by boat may face, as part of an effort to stop them coming altogether. The movie will be screened on TV stations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the soapie-loving citizens of whom could probably do with some hypothetical-peril escapism from living in places where ISIS and the Taliban are things that need dealing with.

The film company contracted to make the soapie, Put It Out There Productions, is run by Australian producer Trudi-Ann Tierney, who spent years in Afghanistan making TV shows talking up the Afghan police force, women’s rights and anti-drug messages that were bankrolled by sources like the US embassy, NATO and the US Department of Defence. The end product is shows like Eagle Four, a US embassy-funded drama about an elite Afghan police squad that combats terrorist cells and instability “despite the tireless reconstruction efforts of NATO and its Allies.” Subtle.

Put It Out There rather euphemistically term what they do “conflict and international development media,” but Tierney herself has described the practice as “propaganda.” Complicating things further is the fact that the source of these shows is rarely revealed to the audience, a nice little omission termed “grey psyops (psychological operations)” by those who commission them. Think of an episode of Neighbours, secretly paid for by the Department of Education, that had a subplot on how great uni fee deregulation is. That probably wouldn’t go down so well with a domestic audience, so it’s understandable why the Immigration Department hasn’t revealed whether their new show will be advertised as “brought to you by the Australian Government”.

Now Put It Out There have the exciting challenge of making Australia’s asylum seeker policy seem even more horrible than the daily life of your average Syrian refugee or Hazara villager. In a statement Lateline published on their website, Tierney said that “people continue to come to Australia to seek a better and safer life, far too often with tragic consequences,” and that “education about the dangers of the trip and the policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters will save people from detention, disappointment and even death.” Which, okay, but considering the Iraqi army’s starting to uncover mass graves left by ISIS in Tikrit, your average Iraqi’s probably not trembling in their boots just yet.