The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work

‘What if we had a comedy debate … to discuss asylum seeker issues?’

The idea seemed so absurd, it might just work.

Dana Affleck, Road To Refuge’s founder, came to me with the beginnings of The Fence Comedy Debate in mid-2014 after we worked on a web promo together earlier that year. I was keen to direct the event and so away we went…


The main game with holding The Fence was to engage an audience that would otherwise remain disengaged. Comedy’s accessibility made it an effective way of doing that. By dispelling the stigma surrounding the issue through light hearted satire, we hoped to comically illuminate the ridiculousness of how we deal with asylum seekers and educate the audience as to why the policies are inherently flawed.

That’s why we came up with the far-fetched debate topic of ‘Should we build a fence around the sea borders of Australia?’ – an asylum seeker policy so ridiculous and so unbelievably counter-productive, you might just believe it was being proposed by the Government.

The Fence Comedy Debate - Julian Burnside


I was always aware of the very real human cost at the core of the asylum seeker debate. This meant the comedic tone of the event had to be inch-perfect. The Fence was an evening to lampoon the lamentable state of affairs and draw humour from where there is very little. But the last thing we wanted was to make light of the issue.

Hence the parameters were set early. We made it absolutely clear from the start that The Fence’s debaters had to be unambiguously comedic. That left it up to the audience to use the energy from the night to begin talking and learning more about asylum seekers once they left the venue.



Hell yeah we did. The night was a huge success. We had an extremely talented cast of comedians (the who’s who of the Australian Comedy business) and advocates who performed including Julian Burnside, Cal Wilson, Judith Lucy, Lehmo, First Dog on the Moon, Jessie Taylor and Akmal Saleh. Without their expertise and professionalism, the evening wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

We had a sold out audience of 700 and the energy in the jam-packed RMIT Storey Hall helped to counter my (and maybe some of my co-organisers) nerves on the night.

The Fence Comedy Debate Audience

AND today for the first time ever, you get to see just how much of a success it was because just below this sentence is the full video of The Fence which we’ve just launched on Road to Refuge’s YouTube Channel!

I’m excited and you should be too.


  • The event’s producer – Carolina Fonseca – who assembled the talent
  • Arthur Penn and The Funky Ten, who were recruited late in the piece to open the show and crashed through any nervous energy that was lingering in the audience and set the night off to the best of starts
  • Our art director, Roxanne Haley who whipped up an amazing set on very little notice including Judith Lucy’s throne which was a huge talking point on the night
  • And to you guys for coming on the night if you did and/or re-living The Fence with me by reading my blog post
The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work

What have we been doing in 2015?

It’s been a massive year for Road to Refuge – in less than twelve months, we have rapidly expanded to a team of 30 volunteers – and this is indicative of our growth as a whole.

For those new to Road to Refuge, and for those wanting to look back on our best year yet, here is a quick glimpse of what we’ve been up to in 2015!

Our Schools team ran 22 school workshops at 13 different schools across Melbourne’s inner and outer suburbs, as well as regional areas of Victoria. We presented workshops to almost 1000 students and presentations to 50 staff.

Horsham Schools Tour

The Road to Refuge Schools team ran two regional school tours:

  • The first tour went to Shepparton, Echuca and Mooroopna, reached almost 500 students and 40 teachers in four days over July, and concluded with a screening of Mary Meets Mohammad.
  • Our second tour went to Horsham in December and spoke to over 300 Year 7-9 students from Horsham College and Dimboola Memorial Secondary College.

The Community Education Team ran workshops for a total of 170 attendees, some run by Road to Refuge and others in partnership with not for profit organisations.

A highlight of 2015 was The Fence comedy debateJudith Lucy, Julian Burnside, First Dog on the Moon, Cal Wilson, Lehmo, Jessie Taylor and Akmal Saleh in front of a sold out crowd of 700. If you missed the event you can catch a glimpse and have a chuckle here.

The Fence Comedy Debate

The Events Team put on the third Read Between the Wines event on A Country Too Far, with a panel including writers Arnold Zable and Judith Rodriguez. We ran Women Who Seek Safety, a sold out event at the Wheeler Center, focused on the issues specifically faced by women seeking refuge. Finally our Film for Thought short film evening this month was so popular, people were using standing room just so they didn’t miss out!

The Coffee Cart team had a presence at many events throughout the year, including the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice, Amnesty International’s Candle Day and Amnesty Refugee Network’s Festival of Hope on Refugee Day, as well as several community festivals.

In 2015, we debuted our Coffee Cup Project for Refugee Week. Over 37,000 cups were distributed to customers by 29 cafes across Melbourne, all stamped with Road to Refuge branding and website to bring refugees and their journeys into the days of the coffee-drinking public.

Road to Refuge Coffee Cup Project

Looking ahead, 2016 is going to be even better. Keep updated here on the blog and sign up to our newsletter to receive regular invites and news of the exciting projects we already have in the works for next year!

// RTR Team

What have we been doing in 2015?