When Chris Bath left Seven in 2015 it was always with a view to exploring new horizons.
True to her word she’s appeared on The Project, Studio 10, Media Circus, ABC Radio, and continued her advocacy work with young journalists.
Bowing out from a network contract is a rarity, and no doubt at times rather scary, but it has also been liberating for Bath.
“I am having an absolute ball as a freelance gun for hire,” she told TV Tonight. “You can cherry pick your way through what you want to do. A big network contract ties you up to certain things –and fair enough too- they pay you a lot of money.
“So I don’t want to talk about that as a criticism. I get it.
“But being a freelance gun for hire you can go ‘ABC Radio? Cool! Keeping Australia Safe? Why not?’”
Keeping Australia Safe, product by ITV Studios Australia, is a hugely-ambitious follow-up to ABC’s 2016 series Keeping Australia Alive. This time the focus moves from health to security, with equal scale and insight.
The 6 part series, shot over 48 hours in Australia and overseas, is embedded in over 24 government and private institutions.
“I can’t tell you the language that I used but it went something along the lines of ‘How on earth did you get this access?’ It blew my mind,” Bath continues.
“I know how difficult it is to get access like this without some media minder hovering every five minutes, policing what’s being shot and said. The access is unbelievable.
“So you are capturing real moments with real people, who tell the story.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m sure there is some spin in it. But they shot 3 terabytes of data over 28 days in May with 200 cameras involved.”
Cameras go on the frontline with state police, the Australian Federal Police, the army, navy, air force, Australian Border Force, corrections and the courts. Tackling everything from cybercrime to terrorism, the series documents both workers and community.
“It’s not just the notion of security that we think of all the time. There’s our troops in Afghanistan where a whole unit has been formed to protect our guys against insider attacks,” she explains.
“Or there’s (the question of) how do we keep a growing number of women over 50 who are homeless safe? Or there’s Olivia in a Brisbane watchhouse and how to keep people who are mentally ill safe.
“So it is safety on a whole number of levels.
“It tries to look at so many different areas of safety and the threats that Australian face on various levels, and whether they are actually real or just perceived.”
One episode even sees how police combatting Child Exploitation deal personally with the grim job of having to classify child porn.
“It is one of the most extraordinary parts of the series,” Bath reveals. “You see someone who is new to the unit and his supervisor is sitting next to him. But he has to view the online sexual abuse of children. You find yourself watching his face, which is otherwise an unremarkable shot, in a room with 2 people and computers.
“He sees it without sound, and then sound, and the look on his face says it all. I couldn’t help but look at him and think ‘How are you going to do this job?’ I know it’s necessary and we need it, but it was really compelling.”
While Bath remains arms-length distance from such confronting scenes, the journalist in her itches to be part of the production process.
“I suppose the biggest difference is my head isn’t on camera. And I’m fine with that. I felt really honoured to be asked, to be quite honest.
“With Sunday Night I was always there for the shoot. But with this I wasn’t, so that’s a marked difference, and I wasn’t there for the cutting process.
“So that’s different to others where I’ve been a part of the process. But I would have given my eye teeth to have been!”
Bath’s name has more recently been thrown into the mix of potential breakfast hosts to replace Lisa Wilkinson on Today, but says a quick search of previous answers should indicate her position on such notions.
“I think you will come to the conclusion that I would much rather go to bed with people than have them waking up with me. The only person crazy enough to wake up with me is my husband,” she laughs.
“I have no idea what other people are earning.”
Asked for her thoughts are on the debate surrounding gender pay parity, Bath suggests most talent don’t know what their colleagues are earning.
“It’s confidential in contract. I have no idea what other people are earning. I’ve watched this go round and round and I don’t know who to believe.
“I have an abiding suspicion –and that doesn’t make it fact- that men earn more than women doing the same job in television. But I stress I do not know whether that’s fact.
“But it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It’s about choosing the person who is best for the job, paying them accordingly, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. I don’t think what you’re paid should be determined on your gender.
“A skillset is a skillset is a skillset, regardless of gender.”
Asked for her views on industry allegations since the Harvey Weinstein bombshell, Bath admits it makes her skin crawl.
“There’s a whole range of issues. You think ‘How many people knew about this? Men and Women?’ But I don’t think asking ‘Why didn’t the women speak up at the time?’ is a valid question. It’s so layered and complex and I don’t know that victim blaming is the way to go with that,” she continues.
“But I do wonder how many people sat back, and watched it, and condoned it? How many people sat back and did nothing, people in positions of power? People who could have done something, but did nothing?
“But if you are going to make an allegation against anybody it has to be backed up by fact.”
Meanwhile gun-for-hire Bath continues with ABC Radio and presenting Keeping Australia Safe. She is happily relaxed as to what the next gig may be and early-morning starts aside, is open to producer offers.
“You never say never.”
Keeping Australia Safe screens 8:30pm Tuesdays on ABC.