It might be the most popular video produced by an Australian government agency since Paul Hogan’s travel ads.
The bizarre hit — a mea culpa from Hollywood’s multi-“sexiest man” Johnny Depp and his wife Amber Heard turned public awareness ad on biosecurity — has been featured everywhere from the 6pm bulletins in Australia to headlining Entertainment Tonight in the United States. The YouTube clip has racked up close to 1 million views in less than 24 hours, while the inevitable parody takes are attracting hundreds of thousands more eyeballs.
When Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce learned Depp’s dogs Pistol and Boo had been illegally smuggled into the country in April last year — bypassing quarantine checks on the couple’s private jet — he launched a war of words that travelled around the world. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources gave the Hollywood pair 72 hours to remove the dogs from the country amid threats of death from the Minister.
Charges were laid on Heard under the Criminal Code Act, and the actress pleaded guilty in the Southport Magistrates Court yesterday. She copped a $1000 fine for making a false declaration on her Incoming Passenger Card and placed on a one-month good behaviour bond.
But the couple’s international humiliation didn’t end there. The department had an idea: a video message of apology, promoting Australia’s strong quarantine policy. Somewhat surprisingly, they agreed. Depp awkwardly declares in the less-than-professional production:
“Australians are just as unique, both warm and direct. When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly … Declare everything when you enter Australia. Thanks.”
In a statement yesterday, Ag Department deputy secretary Lyn O’Connell welcomed the contrition:
“The video provided by Ms Heard shows that she now understands that what she did was wrong and why. Her willingness to take responsibility for her actions — despite media commentary at the time — is good to see.
“There are no exceptions to the rule; Australia applies its laws equally to all passengers arriving into the country. It is particularly disappointing and frustrating when we uncover such serious non-compliance …
“We take our responsibilities to the Australian public seriously — and today’s court outcome shows we prosecute wrongdoers accordingly, no matter who they are.”
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O’Connell pointed the media to the department’s website and its online tools for bringing pets into Australia. It’s engagement with the issue that quiet-working bureaucrats at Ag HQ in Canberra city could only dream of.
Joyce, certainly, is happy with the result. Though he admits “I don’t think it is something that they would have willingly wanted to do”. He said yesterday:
“I hope as many people watch it, I am not ashamed at all. When [people come] into this nation they will say ‘this is one thing Australians are red hot about, biosecurity, don’t take it as a joke, this is one thing they are noted for’. That would be something for Qantas and other airlines, if we can use it to try and reinforce this message.”
While it might be a box office hit, reviews of the departmental video haven’t been good. The Guardian‘s chief film critic Peter Bradshaw was scathing of the performances in his one-star crit, calling the “elaborately deadpan spoof apology” both “bizarre and uncomfortable”:
“It is a very strange performance from them both, perhaps especially Depp. He has only recently staged a comeback with his performances as Donald Trump and the gangster ‘Whitey’ Bulger. But here the irony has gone awfully wrong.”
As Hollywood knows all too well, you can’t please everyone.