Toughest boat trip returns
MULTI- award- winning documentary series Go Back To Where You Came From returns to our screens this week in a second season with six new Australians daring to retrace the journeys made by refugees seeking asylum.
But this time they are not just ordinary Aussies, it is a cast of six prominent figures who have volunteered to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Sympathetic to the refugees’ plight are model/ actress Imogen Bailey, writer/ comedian Catherine Deveny and former Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Usher, who want to get a better understanding of what drives people to gamble everything on a perilous boat trip across the ocean.
On the other side of the debate are rock singer and aspiring Liberal Party politician Angry Anderson, former Howard government minister Peter Reith and radio shock jock Michael Smith, all of whom are of the opinion that the boats should be turned back and asylum- seekers rejected.
This time, screening over three consecutive nights, the participants are bound for two of the world’s most dangerous war zones and biggest sources of refugees: Kabul, in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu, in Somalia.
Instead of doing the journey in reverse from Australia to war zone, as in the first season, this time they are doing it exactly how the refugees do it: from war zone to boat.
In the case of Bailey, Smith and Usher, this includes the trek on foot from Somalia across the border to the refugee camps of Ethiopia, down a desert road besieged by heavily armed squads.
In the final episode the team visits the Christmas Island Detention Centre, with unprecedented film crew access inside the walls.
The biggest problem this show has is that it is still preaching to the converted: as it is inherently sympathetic towards the plight of refugees, it is generally only likely to be watched by those who already agree with its position and not by those whose views might be challenged or changed by it.
It is interesting to watch the evolving perspective of Reith, who was defence minister at the time of the infamous Tampa ‘‘ children overboard’’ affair.
In Kabul, Reith is confronted with one of the Tampa refugees who was sent back to where he came from because at the time Afghanistan was ‘‘ not considered to be a dangerous place’’.
Reith is also confronted by several of the Tampa refugees’ companions on that ill- fated boat having since been killed on return to Afghanistan.
When the danger of Kabul starts to terrify Reith, he confronts the producers, saying he wants to be ‘‘ on the next plane’’, proving the show’s point.
Deveny draws great pleasure from needling Reith, which, to a leftie like myself, is actually rather enjoyable.
Go Back To Where You Came From pulls no punches when it comes to showing how horrifying the conditions are and while it makes no presumption to suggest a solution, it will help viewers understand what makes people desperate enough to make the journey.
The show’s most important contribution is the debate it will spark, which is why it will be followed on Friday night by a special episode of Insight, featuring all the participants in a discussion about what they learnt.