Monday, February 27, 2012

letter to Prime Minister Gillard re Screen Australia


The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT 2600                                                                                                27th Feb 2012
                                                                                   
Dear Prime Minister

It is more than a little absurd that it should be necessary to write to the Prime Minister of Australia to ask a simple question for which there is a not only a simple answer but an obvious one:

Is it appropriate that complaints made about the Chief Operating Officer of a federal government body that invests around $60 million a year in Australian film and television are investigated by the Chief Operating Officer herself?

I would have thought that the answer was a no-brainer. It seems not. Screen Australia’s CEO, Ruth Harley and the Chair of the Screen Australia Board, Glen Boreham, refuse to answer this question and the Hon Simon Crean has shown no interest in doing so either.

A member of the public who asks such a question is left with two choices: resign themselves to the fact that no answer will be forthcoming or keep asking the question until someone, at some level of government, answers it.  If that person is the Prime Minister, so be it.

To choose the latter course exposes the questioner to the accusation that s/he is a ‘vexatious complainant’ whose questions need not be answered because they have been asked so often – a neat and all too familiar tactic used by bureaucrats in the supposedly transparent and accountable era in which we live.  Instead of answering legitimate questions such as those I have been asking for over a year now the person asking them receives a response along the lines of Fiona Cameron’s:

“…please do not continue to waste my time. Neither myself or any other Screen Australia representative will enter into any further correspondence regarding these matters.” 

Much less time would be wasted, of course, if the Fiona Camerons of the bureaucratic world simply answered questions and did not place on file lies that absolve them of responsibility for answering such questions!

It has been suggested to me by various people that calling Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron a liar in public is likely to result in my being sued for defamation. I doubt it as it would then be up to Fiona Cameron, (and by inference, Ruth Harley and Glen Boreman) to demonstrate in court that what I have written in any of my letters to them is untrue. If I have lied, if there is one statement in any one of my letters that is not true, (and hence defamatory) then by all means sue me. I deserve to be sued.

Ms Cameron, Ms Harley and Mr Boreham all know that what I write is based in demonstrable fact (as would come out in court) and so will not sue me. They hope, given that Simon Crean could not care less whether or not Fiona Cameron is a liar who investigates complaints made about herself, that I will just give up and that the matter will be forgotten.
In terms of what you have on your plate, as Prime Minister, my complaint here is so trivial that it will not be brought to your attention. And nor should it be. Simon Crean or someone in his office should have dealt with this appropriately a year ago by asking Fiona Cameron to provide evidence in support of assertions she has placed on file that are damaging to my reputation. If she cannot provide evidence (correspondence she refers to my having written) then she should apologize to me and have the false assertions removed from the file.

What is important here, and what someone within your office should, I believe, attend to, is that the lack of accountability and transparency within Screen Australia. It is a lack that seems to be countenanced by Simon Crean. Perhaps he is too busy with more weighty matters to pay any attention to questions such as mine. This would be understandable, but surely someone within his office should be asking the very questions I have asked. If Fiona Cameron is allowed to lie with impunity, if she is the one who investigates any allegations that she is a liar herself and if  the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is unconcerned about this state of affairs, what safeguards are there in place to guarantee that the $60 million or so of Screen Australia investment in Australian film is spent in a way that is untainted by even the suspicion of corruption. I am not suggesting that anyone at Screen Australia is corrupt. Merely that there is no mechanism in place to deal with such corruption if it is Fiona Cameron who is expected to investigate impartially and pass the results of her investigation up the line – to land, eventually, on the desk of Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

From my point of view this matter will only reach a natural and just conclusion when I have received an apology from Ms Cameron and when her lies have been removed from Screen Australia’s files. It must also be officially acknowledged that this dispute began in earnest when Clare Jager and Ross Mathews decided to knock back a documentary submission of mine without either of them (by their own admission) having viewed the ‘promo’ (representing 16 years of filming) that was the centrepiece of my application.

best wishes

James Ricketson
cc the Hon Simon Crean MP

9 comments:

  1. Try the Ombudsman.
    Screen Australia's predecessor, with much better people than its current management, was smacked around the head by the Ombudsman for its capricious approach to decisions.

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    1. I tried the Ombudsman. His office managed to conduct an investigation without asking one question of Screen Australia! He did not even ask Fiona Cameron to produce the the correspondence she claimed I had written which I had claimed to come out of a meeting with Screen Australia believing that my project had been greenlit. If such correspondence existed (and it doesn't) I would have been not only a fool but implicated in corruption. The Ombudsman accepted that such correspondence existed and did not see the need to ask Fiona Cameron to produce it. The correspondence does not exist.The fact that Fiona Cameron lied about its existence is a problem that no-one, right up to and including the Minister, Simon Crean, will address. Fiona Cameron is supposed to adjudicate disputes impartially; not place lies on file that exonerate members of Screen Australia staff from wrong-doing or incompetence.

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  2. Would be good to know a bit more of the background, James? Its a pity that this isnt published somewhere where lots of people could read it like encore since it is an issue every filmmaker i know has to deal with dealing with Screen Australia.They seem to be able to do what they like, help their friends and treat filmmakers who are not their friends like shit. Ive had the experience and so have filmmaking frieds of mine. Goog luck trying to get Ms Cameron to answer questions or anyone else in the place.

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  3. laughing all the wayFebruary 28, 2012 at 2:05 AM

    The people that run Screen Australia do so for the benefit of their friends first up. Everyone in the industry knows it. And if the friends make films that are box office disasters it doesn’t matter. They just go back and get their snouts in the trough for more money for the next film that will also be a box office disaster. If you’ve got friends in high places you can keep doing this for as long as you like and no-one’s going to stop you. When will someone look at the patterns of who gets funding and see how often the same people (friends and former business partners of Screen Australia employees) get development and production money. And while they’re at it, look at how much money the Screen Australia Board dishes out directly to Board members or to companies that Board members are shareholders in. It’s a disgrace.

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    1. No-one, from Minister Simon Crean, down through the Screen Australia Board and senior management at SA is interested in asking questions such as these. The words 'accountability' and 'transparency' simply do not apply to Screen Australia.

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  4. I have had dealings with various incarnations of the AFDC, the AFC and Screen Australia over a few decades and without a doubt the bunch that are running the show now is the most incompetent and dishonest I have ever encoutered. Peter Garrett's choice of Ruth Harley as CE was a serious error of judgment - not simply because she is hopeless but because she allows those working under her to breach Screen Australia guidelines and act as though they were not accountable to anyone. They are NOT accountable to anyone and I too have received the sort of dismissive responses from Screen Australia that Ricketson has received.The sooner Harley is gone the better.

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  5. Fiona Cameron is not the problem. She is just symptomatic of the real problem – Ruth Harley. Harley has a reputation in New Zealand, where I came into brief contact with her, as someone who does not play
    in accordance with the transparency and accountability handbook. And she does not expect senior members of her staff to do so either. They are free to do as they please. The Harley problem could be ameliorated if the Screen Australia Board had its eye on the ball and took note of what actually takes place within Screen
    Australia, as opposed to accepting as gospel the nonsense that Harley spouts in various public for a – spin with little or no reference to the facts. But even the toxic mix of Harley and a somnolent Board (some of whose members are financial beneficiaries of Board decisions) wouldn't be the end of the world if the relevant Minister, Simon Crean, kept his eye on the ball; asked a few pertinent questions and expected honest answers. He doesn't. Screen Australia barely appears on the radar of his ministerial concerns. Added to these problems there is the press or, should I
    say, the lack of press. Why are journalists not asking tough questions of Harley, Boreham, Crean? That Fiona Cameron deals with complaints made about herself (if it is true) is an abuse of power that should not be tolerated; that should be exposed. The days when people in powerful positions investigated themselves are long gone. Or should be. Come on, Simon, now that the Rudd Gillard soap has run out of steam, how about paying some attention to the mess that Screen Australia is under Ruth Harley.

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  6. It is a pity that Encore is no longer prepared to publish anything that Ricketson writes and that he is now obliged to publish in an online blog that it appears few people read. I did not agree with a lot of Ricketson’s thoughts and observations as expressed in various Encore pieces but he did manage to stimulate some debate about issues of importance to us all. Where is debate about our industry taking place now? Not at Encore, not at IF. Nowhere. This is not healthy. We are now in the position where the senior bureaucrats who run the industry can say what they like, do what they like, and remain unchallenged in public. Where are the various film guilds and associations in all this? Are they speaking out when they see abuses of power within the funding bodies? If they are speaking out, how can we in the industry ever know what they are saying if there is no forum in which their ideas and those of others can be aired?

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  7. James, I wonder if you ever saw a copy of the document that Esben Storm wrote shortly before he died? His account of how 'Tomorrow When the War Began' was stolen from him? If not, here is how it begins. I will send the rest of it to your email address and you can publish it if you like. It would be good for the industry to know what actually goes on behind the scenes - a taste of which you have had.

    HOW I LOST TOMORROW.

    By Esben Storm

    This is the tale I didn’t want to tell. It’s the time I’ve been dreading. The movie Tomorrow When the War Began is out and the reviews are in. People seem to have great expectations for the film and they’re saying what a good idea it was to turn John Marsden’s book into a movie. Well, that was my idea.

    It’s hard for me to go into because no one wants their family, friends and peers to think they’re a loser or worse still, a whinger. Nevertheless, the film
    is out, coasting on the attendant swell of publicity, goodwill and acclaim, and to be honest, it’s very confronting for me. Whether the film succeeds or not,
    quite a few people will already have made money out of it and enhanced their reputations. There would be no profit of any sort for them if I hadn’t brought
    the idea to them. For me, had I still been involved with the project, there could have been earnings of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions,
    but as it is, there will be no benefit of any sort. There’s only misery and debt...(to be continued)

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