Federal Politics

Taxpayers charged $6 million for Immigration Department telemovie

The Immigration Department has made a $6 million telemovie to deter asylum seekers from coming to Australia – eclipsing the budgets of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Castle and Wolf Creek combined.

The taxpayer-funded drama called The Journey made its debut on Afghanistan television on Friday.

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Immigration goes Hollywood to stop asylum seekers

A movie costing $5.9 million has been produced by the Federal Government to deter asylum seekers coming to Australia.

Government tender documents reveal the Department of Immigration and Border protection paid the Sydney-based Put It Out There Pictures $4.34 million to produce the movie. It paid a company called Lapis Communications a further $1.63 million for to promote and advertise it, bringing the total to $5.97 million.

By contrast, Priscilla cost less than $2 million, Wolf Creek about $1 million and The Castle just $750,000. Even adjusted for inflation, the total budget of all three films works out at about $5.8 million in today's terms.

Filmed across three countries, the ninety-minute drama tells the story of a small group of Afghan asylum seekers trying to get to Australia by boat. A trailer available on YouTube – which has about 1000 views – shows scenes of asylum seekers talking, arguing and crying in Afghanistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The film involved cast and crew from 13 countries and has already been screened in Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. It will be available in a variety of Middle Eastern languages, including Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and Farsi.

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It will not be available in English.

On its website, Put It Out There makes no secret of the film's intention.

"The film aims to educate and inform audiences in source countries about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hardline policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters," it says.

The department said the movie was a "key part" of its anti-people smuggling strategy and had a potential audience of 50 million people.

It said market research had shown that telemovies are a proven way to reach and influence the target audience.

"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," a spokesman said. "Initial feedback from viewers has been positive."

It's not the first time the department has strayed into drama. Under Labor, it commissioned a radio drama, but that was much less expensive.

Put It Out There company director Trudi-Ann Tierney declined to be interviewed. However she has in the past had some interesting things to say about her own work, describing her films as "propaganda".

The former Australian TV executive and actress moved to Kabul to manage a bar but fell into the local TV industry and found herself producing a highly popular soapie, which she wrote about in her book Making Soapies in Kabul.

In the book she said she was ostensibly head of drama "but in truth I was nothing more than a propaganda merchant". She also says her work was part of the "psychological operations" NATO and its allies used to influence the values and behaviour of its Afghan audience in a way that  supported the war effort.

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