Monday, April 30, 2012

letter to Prime Minister J Gillard 1st May 2012

1st May 2012

Dear Prime Minister

It is now nine weeks since I commenced a letter to you with this question: 

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 have not yet received from your office acknowledgment of receipt of this letter, or of any of the other letters I have subsequently sent to you; letters sent to you only because it is a waste of time and energy writing to the Hon Simon Crean and expecting to get a response from his office from anyone other than a spin doctor.

Three months ago I sent a letter to Caroline Fulton - Acting Assistant Secretary, Creative Industries and Sector Development, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It included the following:

“I note the following in the Screen Australia Code of Conduct:

(11) An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS.

I cannot put it any more bluntly: Fiona Cameron is a liar. Or, in the parlance of the Code, Ms Cameron is not upholding the values and integrity and good reputation of the APS. And, in allowing her to do so, both Ruth Harley and the Board are implicated in this breach. Is this a matter of concern for Mr Crean? Clearly, the answer is ‘no’.

Let’s just presume, for argument’s sake, that lying is not a hanging offence; that Fiona Cameron playing fast and loose with the truth is not really of great consequence. I actually think it is but then maybe I’m just old-fashioned in this respect. After all we live in a world now in which lies are referred to as spin and in which people such as yourself are employed to lie on behalf of the Minister who employs you. Yes, I can understand, Caroline, that you will take offence to this but in my book (old fashioned as I am) there are sins of commission and sins of omission. Lying is not simply a matter of telling an untruth. It is also failing to acknowledge an untruth – even when it is staring you straight in the face. This is the case with Fiona Cameron’s lies. If there is any vestige of concern for facts, honesty, for transparency and accountability, could someone in Mr Crean’s office please provide me with spin-free answers to two questions:

(1) “Is the Minister, satisfied, on the basis of the facts, that Ms Cameron has been truthful in her correspondence with me?”  All that is required in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

(2) “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron, directed to Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board are referred back to Fiona Cameron to deal with?” Or, to put it another way: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron are investigated by Fiona Cameron?”  This is not the first time I have asked this question. On 16th Sept last year I wrote the following to Mr Crean:

Screen Australia has no functioning complaints system. All complaints about any matter wind up on the desk of Chief Operating Officer Ms Cameron’s – even complaints about herself. How is it possible that complaints made about Ms Cameron inability to abide by Screen Australia’s guidelines  or speak the truth are adjudicated by Ms Cameron? This is symptomatic of Screen Australia’s lack of transparency and accountability in its dealings with the film industry. To be more specific:

On 8th Sept, in a letter to CEO Ruth Harley I registered a complaint about Ms Cameron’s behaviour. The following will give some idea of the nature of my complaint:

“…questions can legitimately be asked about Fiona’s own commitment to Screen Australia guidelines. Isn’t her refusal to respond to letters a breach of SA guidelines; a breach of SA’s supposed (and oft declared) commitment to transparency and accountability? Isn’t Fiona’s tendency (of which there is ample evidence) to play fast and loose with the truth a breach of Screen Australia guidelines? Isn’t Fiona’s placing on file statements about correspondence she claims I have written to SA (but have not) a breach  SA guidelines?”

I did not receive a reply from Ms Harley. Nor did I receive a reply to my follow up letters of 12th and 13th Sept. It is not Ms Harley’s style to respond to letters; to answer questions. I did, however, get the following from Ms Cameron in an email. 

“…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.” 

This is Ms Cameron’s response, on Ms Harley’s behalf, to my complaint about Ms Cameron! What kind of a complaints process is this where the person being complained about can fail to deal with a complaint about herself by simply refusing to correspond any further! This is Franz Kafka territory! Or is it Alice in Wonderland? Monty Python!?

Perhaps, Caroline, you can provide me with a spin-free answer to my question: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron be adjudicated by Fiona Cameron?” The answer, of course, is no, though I imagine that a good spin doctor can come up with a semi-plausible reason why it is not inappropriate for Fiona to be investigating complaints about herself.

If senior management and the Board at Screen Australia have no interest in the facts and no concern that Fiona Cameron is (at least in her dealings with me) a liar, and if the Minister for the Arts is not concerned either, what happens if there is a major complaint about Screen Australia that relies, for its appropriate resolution, on Fiona Cameron’s honesty? My own complaint is (to all by myself) a minor one – one filmmaker treated shoddily by Screen Australia staff for having the temerity to insist on its behaving in a transparent and accountable manner. The problem for the industry, for the Australian tax-payers who fund it, is that there is no mechanism in place within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to deal with any serious breach of the APS Code of Conduct on the part of Fiona Cameron. Surely there should be in place some mechanism whereby lies such as Fiona Cameron tells (and to which Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board turn a bind eye) can be dealt with? In the SA autocracy, as it is currently structured, it would be all too easy for members of senior management and the Board to behave in a manner that abrogates the Public Service Code of Conduct in major and serious ways without there being any possibility of redress. Rumours abound as it is of such serious breaches but the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet does not have in place the mechanisms whereby such breaches can be dealt with impartially. Perhaps the rumours are just that. Scuttlebutt. The problem is that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet not only do not have any mechanisms in place to investigate such breaches. Worse, it seems not to have any interest in doing so.
On 19th Nov I wrote the following to Mr Crean:

“I have written to you several times, Mr Crean, to complain of the lack of transparency and accountability within Screen Australia. The lack of it, apparent to all of us who work within the industry and to anyone who bothered to look at the facts, makes a mockery of the Labor government’s supposed commitment to transparency and accountability.”

I imagine that this letter will be responded to (if at all) with yet more spin. However, I would love to be surprised and to have my complaints deal with impartially by someone within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who lacks skills in the fields of spin but who has a commitment to making judgements based on facts.

In the interests of transparency I am copying this to all involved. If they wish to challenge the factual basis of anything I write here or have written previously, I hope they will. I doubt that they will, however, as what I write is based on facts – as anyone who bothered to look at the facts would realize.

If I do not get a satisfactory response from Mr Crean, I will address my next letter to the Prime Minister.

best wishes

Ms Fulton did not bother to even acknowledge receipt of this letter. Three months down the line I know now that addressing a letter to your office is as much a waste of time as writing to Mr Crean. Your office, along with Mr Crean’s, the Board of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron have, it seems, collectively decided (having tried but failed to get any traction with the threatening-to-sue-for-defamation option) to ignore both my correspondence and the fact that I am publishing it on the internet. This seems to be the Gillard way – until, that is, a problem blows up in your face and you have to belatedly, retrospectively, draw a line in the sand and send someone to the sin bin for having crossed it - to save face!

best wishes

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. Need to check your formatting Mr Ricketson but the messsage is clear.If nothing else your battle with Screen Australia demonstrates that its threats to sue its critics are just bully boy (girl!) tactics. They've done the same to Encore and others ti kill off criticism and debate.