Monday, May 28, 2012

letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard 29th May

The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra, ACT 2600                                                                                                           29th May  2012
Dear Prime Minister

“Your correspondence places our staff at risk,” writes a bureaucrat in the employ of the government you lead. “To be clear, any correspondence you send to us about the decisions notified in this letter will not be read.” At risk of what, I wonder! Death by letter bomb? Poisoning by anthrax? I know that the pen is mightier than the sword and all that, but…placing the staff of Screen Australia (a tax-payer funded film funding body) at risk with my words! Is that an insult or a compliment?

“Screen Australia has taken the decision that it will not accept further funding applications from you, or engage in correspondence with you about funding applications,” continues Ruth Harley, Chief Executive of Screen Australia. “I appreciate that this is an unusual step and one which we do not take lightly.”

I search Harley’s letter in vain for evidence that my letters and emails have placed her staff at risk, “We are under a legal obligation to protect our staff from harassment and intimidation,” is as close as Harley comes to explaining her decision. I agree with Harley that if I am guilty of harassment, intimidation and placing her staff at risk, her banning me from having any further communication with the tax-payer funded organization she heads up is not an inappropriate course of action. Indeed, given the unpleasant images conjured up by placing her staff ‘at risk’,  it would not be unreasonable for her to take out an AVO against me. Some evidence in support of the charges laid against me would be appreciated, however, given the draconian nature of the sentence handed down by Harley. With or without the blessing of the Screen Australia Board is a question that I have been unable to get an answer to.

Whoever in your office is reading this may well be thinking at this point: “The Chief Executive of Screen Australia, answerable to Minister for the Arts, the Hon Simon Crean, would not accuse a filmmaker of harassment, intimidation and placing her staff at risk if she did not have evidence that he had done so. Ricketson must be guilty, surely!”  Yes, I may be guilty as charged. It may well be that I am lying when I insist that I have not intimidated, harassed or placed any Screen Australia staff at risk. Evidence of my guilt or innocence would be found in the correspondence in question if anyone bothered to look. Or is Harley’s word of its existence enough?

I have asked Ruth Harley to quote one sentence, one paragraph, one email, one letter to a member of her staff that contains anything that could be construed, by even the most sensitive or Screen Australia employee, as posing a risk to them. If she can produce even just a few words that are evidence of my having harassed or intimidated her staff,  my pleading innocent is disingenuous at the very least. If Harley were to identify the correspondence to back up her claims, or even selected extracts, I would have lots of egg on my face. I would appear a fool in public, and deservedly so since I have so vociferously, and very publicly, proclaimed my innocence?  Harley refuses to reveal to me which of my correspondence she is referring to.  

My appeal to Harley to act n accordance with the precepts of accountability and transparency Screen Australia prides itself in adhering to having failed, I then suggested that an independent Conciliator be brought in to determine whether or not my correspondence contains evidence of the crimes for which I have been accused. Such a Conciliator should, I believe, be someone with no vested interest in the outcome but an interest only in verifiable facts and not in the clouds of obfuscation that tax-payer funded spin doctors can throw up to confuse simple questions. It does not get much more simple that this: the correspondence to which Harley refers either exists or it does not. And if it exists there must be a few words in it at least that could be construed as intimidating, harassing, placing staff at risk. Harley could point these out to the Conciliator.

Harley did not respond to my Conciliation suggestion. This is consistent with her declaration that “any correspondence you send to us about the decisions notified in this letter will not be read.” Kafkaesque is too mild a term to describe what is going on here!

I believe it should be a matter of concern to you, at a time when bureaucrats in your government endlessly repeat the  ‘I am committed to transparency and accountability’ mantra, that a senior bureaucrat can effectively ban an individual from communicating with a tax-payer funded organization and provide no evidence at all to back up his or her actions! It should be a matter of concern to you that the minister whose job it is to see that public servants act in accordance with the Australian Public Service code of conduct refuses to ask the Chief Executive of an organization within his portfolio to provide evidence for such a draconian course of action. Or am I just hopelessly old fashioned in my understanding of what the words ‘transparency’; and ‘accountability’ actually mean?

It is now three months since I wrote the following to you:

“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?”
Receipt of this letter has not been acknowledged and it has certainly not been handed down the line to Mr Crean’s office for him to deal with. I have written many times to Mr Crean about this. Receipt of  my letters has not been acknowledged. Perhaps Crean is fearful that my correspondence places his staff at risk!  

yours sincerely

James Ricketson

1 comment:

  1. Have been on the receiving end of the same treatment from Screen Australia. So have other filmmakers I know. The sooner we get rid of this lot of career bureaucrats the better.