Transcript: ABC RN Breakfast with Geraldine Doogue - Port Arthur

GERALDINE DOOGUE, HOST: Now let's turn to anger growing in Tasmania. After streaming company Stan, announced it's producing a new film about the Port Arthur massacre. Focusing on the man responsible for the killings. The 1996 attack left 35 people dead and it shocked the world, paving the way for a major overhaul of Australia's gun laws. The film directed by Justin Kurzel and written by Sean Grant is currently in production in Victoria, and it's expected to premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival next year, before being aired by Stan. Brian Mitchell is a Federal Labor MP for the Tasmanian seat of Lyons, which includes Port Arthur, and I'm delighted to welcome into the programme. Hello, Brian.


BRIAN MITCHELL, MEMBER FOR LYONS: Good morning, Geraldine.


DOOGUE: It's now been 24 years since one of the very darkest days in Australian history truly, is now the right time maybe to take another look to try to understand more about what happened at Port Arthur and the man responsible for it.


MITCHELL: I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what sort of story do we want to be told from Port Arthur. The problem with this film and any film like it is it seeks to magnify and amplify the perpetrator, the government, rather than the victims, the survivors in the community. And any story about Port Arthur really should be about them. We've worked very hard for 24 years to minimise the government without naming without using image. And we think he should be in the background. Any project no matter how well intentioned, or how well produced that seeks to amplify or magnify or explain his motivations or his background. Just by doing that, makes him the focus. And that's entirely the wrong approach.


DOOGUE: Certainly, there's an incredible code in Tasmania, went and visited Port Arthur last year, and was really struck by how strongly people observe it. And you know, you go to Port Arthur, which is a fabulous place to visit in that that sort of very dignified shrine there. But it's even the way the guides refer to it is, it's a sort of a lesson in dignity, I suppose. But it's a choice by Tasmanians, isn't it? I suppose that's the question. I doesn't necessarily mean the rest of Australia has to abide by it, does it? Well, look,


MITCHELL: I think the fact that we even having this discussion is part of the problem. You know, even having this discussion is incredibly hurtful for people down there. They live with this every day, the Port Arthur community is very tight knit, there wouldn't be a person in Port Arthur, in the Port Arthur community, and you've been on the Tasman Peninsula, who wouldn't have some very direct personal impact from that event that know somebody who is involved. They drive past those sites every day, it's part of their life. It wasn't just 24 years ago, it was yesterday, and it will be tomorrow. Now there. They're a tough and resilient bunch down there Geraldine. They're not shrinking violets. But this is incredibly hurtful. The fact that we're even having this conversation I've often have to weigh up, you know, the conundrum of me talking about this, Is that exacerbating the harm. And that should be our first thought, you know, do projects like this? cause more harm? The overwhelming feeling in Tasmania is yes, it does. And if a story needs to be taught about Port Arthur, it should be it should be about the survivors, the victims, the community. And it's got to be said, this is not a this is not an historical truth telling this is not a documentary. It's not an academic pursuit. This is a project a private project to make money on a streaming service.


DOOGUE: Well, yes, but I suppose what they're trying to do, as far as I understand it, is understand the mind of a person like that. And of course, there's a lot of that around these days, you know, on the media, what happens in the minds of people, a psychopath….


MITCHELL: Geraldine, to my view and I think to a lot of people's view, if people want to understand the gunman’s mind, that's a role for psychologists and psychiatrists and other people, but to perhaps talk to him in his cell and produce an academic paper on that sort of thing. This is a for profit movie that seeks to make money, and it's coming out on the 25th year of the shooting. It's completely exploitative. Now I know the people who are putting it together believe they're doing with the best intentions, and they're putting all sorts of what they think are safeguards around it, but they can't escape the simple fact. This magnifies and amplifies the government at the expense of the community, the survivors and the victims, and it puts them into the background. And that is completely the opposite of what we've sought to achieve over the last 24 years.


DOOGUE: Are you sure that is necessarily going to be the case like may or may not include the whole response of the community as well?


MITCHELL: No. Well, the community hasn't been consulted. The first most people in the community knew about this was last week when it emerged now we've learned that screen Tasmania was approached about two years ago by the producers screen Tasmania said we don't want to fund it, by apparently went to the Tasmanian arts Minister second meeting with her, she said, I don't want to meet with you. Now, in retrospect, that was probably a mistake. If she'd met with them, she could have, perhaps talk them down. But she made it very clear, she didn't want to have anything to do with this. They've chosen to shoot the film in Victoria rather than Tasmania. Because they know it's such a sore subject here in Tasmania, there's all sorts of markers, whereby the producers should know that this is not an appropriate thing to be doing. And they've chosen to proceed now, in their own mind, they might convince themselves that they're doing the right thing that this is some sort of highbrow artistic expression. What this does, it magnifies the gunman, it makes him the story. And that's exactly what we've sought not to do for the last 24 years.


DOOGUE: If he if he was not alive, would that change things, I'm just trying to get down to because I know there's been a whole lot of thought that the best way to continue to sort of in effect, say, this is a pathetic, sort of set of behaviours that this as well as being shocking, this man has to be just have no accolades or, you know, given to him at all. Now, if he were not with us, would that change things or not? We never did talk about him?


MITCHELL: I think if we're going to talk about Port Arthur, and the events that occurred that day, let's make the focus on the victims or survivors, the community, how it's come together, the success story that's come out of it. And that should serve as a template for the way we treat mass shootings worldwide. I mean, there's been a number of mass shootings, particularly in the US since and we've seen what happens when the perpetrators are magnified in the media, even by calling them losers and whatever else. It it puts the focus on them, they become the story.


DOOGUE: Yes. And there was a whole lot of judgement that the one of the sort of things in a funny way, the fact that Bryant lived and was basically, you know, incarcerated for the rest of his life, actually did make sure that he wasn't a martyr, if you know what I mean, and wasn't lying is that that was one of the contributions.


MITCHELL: And frankly, any movie that comes out now that makes him the centre, and he is entirely the centre.


DOOGUE: They're not going to name him I gather, but….


MITCHELL: his name is in the title of the movie spelt backwards, it doesn't take a genius to work it out.


DOOGUE: Right. So is there anything they could do to change your mind here?




DOOGUE: Is there any?


MITCHELL: No, no, no. They should just stop, that is my simple plee, is just stop, you're in mid production, you spent a fair bit of money investing in this project, I understand that. Just stop, you know, there are all sorts of stories worthy stories. And that could be told about Australia, and Australians and all sorts of different tales that that should be told. And this is not one of them. We don't need to know, his motivations, his background, all that.


DOOGUE: Well, has it been done?


MITCHELL: it has, it has been done. And when, by seeking to do more of it, again, it amplifies him. And it makes the victims the collateral damage. They they're the side story. They're there, but they don't become the story and they are the story. Its the victims and the survivors or the story in this. Now this is incredibly hurtful for the people down there. I've spoken to the former mayor, I know that the current mayor has, has made some public comments. I know Federal Parliamentarians who have been caught up in this Eric abetz, the liberal senator, he had a friend who died, Andrew Lee, my colleague here in Canberra, he had a mentor and friend who died down there. This affects people all over the country. But no more so than important.


DOOGUE: The ABC Family was affected too, I could tell you.


MITCHELL: Well, exactly right, it affects everybody and no more so than in Port Arthur where people have to drive past their site, and indeed work at that site every day. It's a memory every day that they live with. And the last thing we need is a story. A fictional story, telling the story about the perpetrator.


DOOGUE: Oh, it is a fictional story, is it? It's not a it's not a documentary?


MITCHELL: It’s a feature film. It's a drama, it’s a dramatization.


DOOGUE: I'm sorry, I didn't quite grasp that. And look at a final question, I suppose is that has it ever occurred to you because it certainly did when I was standing down there. And I was actually went down there the day after to report on it way back. When I was working for life matters, that we do need to focus a little bit more on why that man became quiet as he was. It does sit there in your mind.


MITCHELL: I'm a former journalist I understand stories need to be told and news needs to be reported. That is a job for psychologists and experts. And that doesn't need to be done in the full glare of you know, a profit making movie that can be done by academic papers. It can be done by experts in the field. And that's the appropriate place for exploring those sorts of, you know, issues. It doesn't need to be done on a streaming service, you know, on the 25th anniversary of the great tragedy and the motivation behind this is to make money. There's no doubt.


DOOGUE: All right, we'll watch with interest. Thank you very much indeed.


MITCHELL: Thanks Geraldine.


DOOGUE: Brian Mitchell is a Federal Labor MP for the Tasmanian seat of Lyons which includes Port Arthur.