Why Craig Reucassel tackled the political lobbying industry on Big Deal

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• “This topic was on my list, particularly after doing Fight For Planet A and Big Weather.”

For every federal politician, there are millions of dollars devoted to swinging their opinion, or their vote. Presented by comedian Christiaan Van Vuuren and directed by Craig Reucassel, the ABC’s new two-part series Big Deal tackles the influence of Australia’s billion-dollar political lobbying industry.

Mediaweek spoke to Reucassel about how Big Deal came together and why he chose to dive into such a big topic.

Behind the Camera

Big Deal marks Reucassel’s first time behind the camera as he makes his directorial debut. Whilst the title was new, a lot of the work seemed familiar.

“I enjoyed it in the end actually! I realised that a lot of the elements of directing were already things that I’d always done through Chaser, like the writing, the elements of producing, the editing and sitting in on edits. All that kind of stuff.”

Why Now?

While taking on the political lobbying industry might seem like a deviation from Reucassel’s most recent work on climate change documentaries, the two are very much linked.

“The industry got much more influential during John Howard‘s time in government. Around the time he was doing some other positive things around gun laws, he made some changes that hugely increased the amount of donations can be made and not be declared. So it hasn’t always been as bad, although it’s always been part of politics.

This topic was on my list, particularly after doing Fight For Planet A and Big Weather. Doing climate change documentaries, you constantly hit this wall where you go: hang on a second, this next step doesn’t make sense. Why are we not dealing with this? We seem to have a solution, we seem to have the will in the community to change it, why does it not get through federal parliament?”

Christiaan Van Vuuren and Craig Reucassel

Surprises Along the Way

A self-proclaimed ‘political tragic,’ Reucassel went into Big Deal with a strong background knowledge of how the Australian Government works. That didn’t mean he wasn’t surprised at what he found.

“It’s not like this is a new thing but it still surprised me a lot along the way. It’s mostly because it’s not dodgy people being dodgy, actually it’s people being legal. That’s part of the surprise, is just how few restrictions there are. When you talk to Sam Dastyari and he lays out what can happen, and why it happens, and that it’s all legal – that was quite shocking to see it all brought together like that. 

I had some pleasant shocks as well, particularly on the community-based organising side and how much of that is going on. A lot of it doesn’t necessarily make the media, so that was quite interesting as well.”

Reucassel behind the scenes

On the flip side of the coin, hosting Big Deal is Christiaan Van Vuuren of Bondi Hipsters fame. Reucassel says the fact that Van Vuuren didn’t have the same political background brought the voice of the everyday Australian to the show.

“It was an absolute joy working with Christiaan, he’s just such a lovely guy – so enthusiastic, and clever, and funny. It was interesting because he has less of that political background, but that was fascinating for the show. 

“There were moments where maybe if I’d been doing an interview I wouldn’t have been shocked, but he was. I think it was really good because you kind of think ‘Oh, of course, we should be shocked about this. We shouldn’t be presuming this is the way’.

“When you talk to politicians, a lot of them are like, ‘this is just the game. This is how it works’. There are things that I think the general public and the ‘pub test’ would say seem corrupt, but which are totally accepted by our current system.”

Christiaan Van Vuuren speaking to Jason Falinski and Zali Steggall

Hopes for Big Deal

For Reucassel, he hopes that the show gives audiences a sense of what can be done about the political lobbying industry.

“I hope they get awareness, maybe some frustration at the way it works now. Also the sense of what they can do about it, what we need to do about it. Unlike some things you look at, it feels like a very solvable problem and I think we can get some really positive solutions on this front.”

Big Deal: Tuesday 19 October at 8.30pm on ABC TV, with both episodes instantly available to binge on ABC iview.

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