Thursday, May 10, 2012
letter to Ruth Harley, 11th May 2012
CEO, Screen Australia
150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011 11th May 2012
In response to your letter of 10th May.
I have been banned from making any applications at all to Screen Australia! I suspect that this may be a first. And all because, you claim, my correspondence places your staff at risk! Of what? Letter bombs? Anthrax filled envelopes!?
Your reference to my placing members of your staff at risk is as nonsensical as Fiona Cameron’s reference, 17 months ago, to correspondence I had supposedly placed on file but which does not exist. Have you no respect at all for facts, Ruth? For the truth? Please produce the evidence of my placing your staff at risk by writing to them? And, whilst you are at it, copies of the correspondence that Fiona says are on file that lie at the very heart the heart of my complaint.
In your view, clearly, it is perfectly OK for Fiona Cameron to place lies on file that damage my reputation but it is not OK for me to damage Fiona’s reputation by calling her a liar for placing the lies on file! If Fiona’s statement regarding correspondence is not a lie all she has to do is produce the correspondence. I will publish it online and, in so doing, make a complete an utter fool of myself. Egg all over my face! Fiona will not produce the correspondence because it does not exist – as you, as Chief Executive of Screen Australia have known for the past 16 or so months.
A quite review of the facts is in order. My dispute with Screen Australia begins with an assessment cockup two years ago – Ross Mathews and Claire Jager failing to view the ‘promo’ that was the centrepiece of my first CHANTI’S WORLD application: 15 years in the life of the ‘street kid’ who is the main subject of my totally self-funded documentary, compressed into 8 minutes. As you know full well, and as you have known for at least 16 months, Ross, Claire and Julia Overton all admitted that they had not seen the ‘promo’ before knocking back my application. Claire Jager also made the nonsensical suggestion that I should be approach, for funding, the Christian NGO in Cambodia that I was alleging in CHANTI’S WORLD (with irrefutable evidence) had illegally ‘stolen’ children from impoverished Cambodian parents. Claire was also confused by a DVD of stills that she believed I had submitted and which seemed to have nothing to do with my application. This is not surprising given that I had not submitted a DVD of stills. Claire had clearly viewed a DVD from some other filmmaker’s project. (These facts are well documented and have never been challenged.) My complaint about Claire’s shoddy, incompetent, assessment was ignored by Ross Mathews. It eventually wound up on Fiona Cameron’s desk. Rather than admit that Ross and Claire had cocked up and commission another assessment (one in which an assessor would actually view the promo), Fiona attempted, in the crudest possible fashion, to shift the responsibility for the cockup from Screen Australia to myself with the following words:
“Unfortunately it appears from your correspondence that you came away from that meeting with an understanding that your application for further development funding for Chanti’s World had been effectively green lit. This is not the case, nor could it be.”
Over a period of 17 months now I have repeatedly asked Fiona Cameron to produce the correspondence she refers to. She has not done so. She can’t. The correspondence does not exist. When I asked you Ruth, as Chief Executive, to ask Fiona to either produce the correspondence or apologize for Screen Australia’s cockup and remove her false allegations from the file, you ignored me. So did Screen Australia Chair, Glen Boreham. When I continued to complain to you (and Glen) about Fiona’s refusal to produce the correspondence she had referred to in her letter of 12th Nov 2012 and to her placing on file statements that were demonstrably not true, you handed my complaint on to Fiona to deal with. Fiona Cameron investigating complaints made about Fiona Cameron! Really, Ruth, in 2012!
Fiona’s response to my complaint about herself then, as yours is now, was, in a nutshell: I will not correspond any further with you. I will not answer any questions. Fiona clearly feels under no obligation to answer questions or to justify her actions. She is a law unto herself and she is so with your blessing; with the blessing of the Screen Australia Board. This is where my original complaint, of no real relevance to anyone but myself, becomes significant for my fellow filmmakers – the lack of a functioning complaints process within Screen Australia or, to put it another way, a complaints process overseen by someone (Fiona Cameron) with no interest in the facts, with a propensity to play fast and loose with the truth and who refuses to engage in dialogue with anyone who calls her on her spin and lies. A recipe for corporate disaster!
And what of the ‘investigation’ conducted by the Ombudsman? The former Ombudsman, Alan Asher? This amounted to Elisa Harris, from Mr Asher’s office, making one phone call to Fiona Cameron. Fiona told Ms Harris that my complaint was baseless. This is not surprising since it was Fiona I was complaining about in large part. Ms Harris did not ask Fiona to produce the correspondence she had referred to and which I claimed did not exist. Ms Harris did not speak with Claire Jager, Ross Mathews, Julia Overton or Liz Crosby to elicit from them their recollections of the events that had led to my complaint being made. In short, Ms Harris’ ‘investigation’ was as shoddy as Claire Jager’s assessment. When I asked that my complaint be investigated properly it was handed by Mr Asher to Rohan Anderson who, by his own admission, did not speak with anyone at Screen Australia. Not one person. He did not conduct any investigation at all – despite his promise to me that he would make phone calls and ask questions. As was the case with Ms Harris, Mr Anderson did not ask Fiona to produce the correspondence she had referred to in 12th, Nov. Two shoddy ‘investigations’ by the office of the Ombudsman. The fate of my complaint to the new Ombudsman, Alison Larkins, regarding Fiona Cameron’s investigating complaints made about Fiona Cameron remains to be completed. However, a proper investigation of my latest complaint about Fiona would necessitate Ms Larkins asking her to produce the correspondence that Fiona has failed to produce this last 17 months. Fiona’s failure to do so would validate my perseverance this past 17 months and would necessitate that the office of the Ombudsman make an apology to me for not having requested copies of the correspondence in the 17 months ago. Whether the Ombudsman is prepared to admit to a mistake remains to be seen. Certainly you, Ruth, and Screen Australia generally have an aversion to ever admitting to making errors of judgement of any kind. It would have been so easy, right at the outset, for Ross or Fiona to say, “James, sorry about the cockup! Sure, lets get another assessment done.” This is not, alas, Screen Australia’s management style under your stewardship.
Now, 17 months later, because I refuse to accept defeat and to use the internet (my blog) as a tool of battle, you tell me that you are fearful for the safety of your staff. Really, Ruth, how can you write such nonsense? Please point to any statement I have made that could, even in one’s wildest dreams, be deemed to be threatening to any member of your staff. Just one! How can correspondence place your staff at risk? Have I stalked anyone? Have I turned up at Screen Australia offices armed with a camera? Have I made inappropriate or abusive phone calls? Have I issued any threats? Have I used bad and offensive language in any of my correspondence? No, the only risk to any member of your staff is that they might experience some distress at being asked questions they do not wish to answer – questions which they are obliged to answer not only in terms of Screen Australia guidelines but in terms of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct; questions that you do not require of your staff that they answer.
It is an extraordinary state of affairs when the Chief Executive of Screen Australia, rather than answer questions (like ‘please produce the correspondence Fiona claims I have placed on file’), should ban the asker of those questions from making any further applications to Screen Australia. Even more extraordinary is for the CE of Screen Australia to assert that a filmmaker with a complaint, is placing Screen Australia staff at risk; that SA has a legal obligation to protect its staff from harassment and intimidation. Could you please, Ruth, provide me with one instance in which I have harassed or intimidated your staff? No, of course you won’t – not because such correspondence does not exist (it doesn’t) but because you have announced that “any correspondence which you send to us about the decisions notified in this letter will not be read.” You have laid bare, in your letter of yesterday, your management style - your refusal to answer questions being the antithesis of both the accountability and transparency that Screen Australia claims to adhere to in its dealings with filmmakers. Just as Fiona is under no obligation to produce correspondence that does not exist, nor will you be required by anyone (Screen Australia Board, Simon Crean, Ombudsman) to provide any evidence at all of the actions on my part that have placed your staff at risk. As for your making of threats (first legal and now banning me from making applications) these are tactics employed by corporate bullies to silence critics.
I trust that those of my fellow filmmakers and industry journalists who may have an interest in how Screen Australia deals with critics will ask you to please produce the correspondence that you claim places your staff at risk; that you will please produce the correspondence that Fiona claims exists and to which she referred in her 12th Nov 2010 letter; that you will please explain why and how it is that a complaint made to you about Fiona Cameron is investigated by Fiona Cameron.
As it happens CHANTI’S WORLD has, this past two years, undergone a great many changes that render it eligible for assessment – even if my previous applications had all been dealt with properly. Anyone who looked at the accompanying DVD would recognize this. Anyone who read my submission would likewise recognize this. But your refusal to accept any further applications from myself for CHANTI’S WORLD or any oter project of mine is not about due process, it is not about Screen Australia or myself abiding by guidelines, it is about Screen Australia punishing a filmmaker who has the temerity to ask of and expect transparency and accountability on the part of SA’s senior management.
Could you please point me to that part of the Screen Australia charter that deals with SA’s right to refuse to accept applications from filmmakers? If there is a section that gives Screen Australia the right to refuse to accept applications from filmmakers who place Screen Australia personnel at risk (which would be quite understandable) could you please explain in what way I have placed members of your staff at risk? Or am I not allowed to know the crime it is I have been charged with to elicit such a draconian response.