The Government has spent $4.1 million on a "stop-the-boats" propaganda film.

Just when you thought the Government’s “stop-the-boats” rhetoric couldn’t get more tasteless, they decide to turn the misguided message into a telemovie.

The Federal Government is spending more than $4 million to fund a telemovie aimed at deterring asylum seekers from travelling to Australia by boat.

Now, it’s not exactly the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster — it’s certainly less than the $21.6 million they forked out to have the fifth instalment of Pirates of the Carribean filmed in Queensland — but for a government insisting they’re in the midst of a budget crisis, it does seem a little over-the-top.

The drama, which will be screened in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been touted as a tool to highlight the dangers of seeking asylum by boat, ABC’s Lateline program revealed last night.

Sydney-based production company Put It Out There Pictures has been given the $4.1 million contract for the project, which will include storylines about the Australian Navy and asylum seekers drowning at sea.

A group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers on a boat in Indonesia.

“Television soap operas and telemovies are proven media to reach the target audience when seeking to deliver complex messages,” a spokesperson for the Immigration Department told Lateline.

“Each broadcast will be accompanied by a major awareness campaign across television and social media.”

In other words? The project is as a straight-up piece of propaganda.

It is essentially the telemovie equivalent of the Rudd government’s 2013 advertising campaign: a heavy-handed message to dissuade asylum seekers — delivered, rather ridiculously, via a medium many displaced people are unlikely to be able to consume.

The “No Visa? No Settlement” campaign.

Stop The Boats: A Telemovie has unsurprisingly been slammed by refugee advocates, who quite sensibly say it’s a terrible idea and will do little to solve the problem of deaths at sea.

“The target audience for this telemovie is already traumatised communities,” Welcome to Australia national director Brad Chilcott told Mamamia.

Related content: Brad Chilcott on the future of refugee policy in Australia.

“To spend $4 million to further traumatise these people with images of people drowning at sea or suffering while fleeing from the terror they experience on a daily basis is insensitive to say the least.”

Mr Chilcott added that tomorrow, Hazara people in Australia will hold protest vigils for 31 people kidnapped from a bus in their home country of Afghanistan – and that “not many people in that community would be untouched by the regular violence, including bombings and assassinations against their family and friends”.

These are the people our government is targeting with the film.


Not exactly a kind sentiment, is it?

A scene from Thursday’s Lateline episode.

More than that, a television drama is unlikely to deter people fleeing the horrors of Islamic State and a resurgent Taliban.

“A TV show isn’t going to stop people who are running from the Taliban,” Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning told Lateline. “I don’t think the Government understands why people are on the move if they think a TV drama will be a deterrent.”

What’s more, those millions could be used to help asylum seekers, rather than offend and retraumatise them.

“There are countless ways to better spend $4 million,” Chilcott said. “For example equipping the UNHCR to better assess and resettle persecuted people before desperation sets in.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, though, at the Abbott government’s bizarre financial decisions regarding refugees: In last year’s budget, Abbott allocated $8.3 billion over four years to lock them up.

Tony Abbott says stopping the boats is the “best thing” he can do for asylum seekers.

Lateline‘s revelations about the film followed a press conference by Tony Abbott yesterday, in which our Prime Minister declared the Coalition was the only government who could be trusted to stem the flow of boats, as others would “succumb to the cries of human rights lawyers”.

(Because damn those pesky human rights lawyers and all their talk about “not being allowed to torture people” and “laws about arbitrary detention”.)

Related content: Poor Tony Abbott. The UN is picking on him again.

Mr Abbott also refused to address calls for a royal commission into child sexual abuse in detention centres, saying that stopping the boats was the still the “best thing” he could do.

This is despite the fact that “The Forgotten Children” report from the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed 33 reported cases of sexual assault (the majority involving children) in immigration detention between January 2013 and March 2014.

And in spite of Tuesday’s allegations that the Department of Immigration also ignored claims of sexual abuse of children on Nauru for more than 17 months.

Oh, and let’s not forget that time the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, found Australia’s detention policy breached international prohibitions on torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Whoops!

More on this: Immigration Department aware of sexual abuse allegations against children for 17 months but failed to act, say former Nauru workers.

Abbott’s comments were quite rightly panned by prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, who said he was “utterly astounded that [Abbott] would say something so foolish”.


The point is, this telemovie — and Abbott’s comments — are merely the latest iterations of this government’s cruel and overly simplistic approach to asylum seekers.

As the world faces its largest refugee crisis in more that 60 years, our government is spending billions annually to commit gross human rights violations against people who need our help — and now, they are throwing away millions on an ill though-out and downright offensive scheme to stop vulnerable people fleeing from violence.

As one Twitter user points out:

Honestly, that could be the only good thing to come out of this horrible plan.