Tuesday, May 29, 2012

letter to Ruth Harley 30th May

Ruth Harley
CEO, Screen Australia
Level 4
150 William St.
Woolloomooloo 2011                                                                                    30th May 2012

Dear Ruth

I have received no response from you at all to my letter of 14th May. This is unsurprising given what you wrote in your letter of 10th May:

“To be clear, any correspondence which you send to us about the decisions notified in this letter will not be read.”

How wonderfully simple and less time-consuming our legal system and conflict resolution processes would be if the Ruth Harley Star Chamber approach were to be adopted! There would be no need for evidence, no concept of the presumption of innocence, no right of the accused to present his or her case and no right of appeal. Indeed, no opportunity for the accused to engage in any kind of dialogue with the accuser. The guilty party (guilty because s/he has been charged with a crime by a person in a position of power and therefore must be guilty) can pursue only three options: (1) accept the judgment of the Star Chamber unquestioningly, regardless of the injustice that has been done; (2) refuse to accept the punishment meted out and fight for your right not to be subject to the autocratic whims of the Ruth Harleys and Fiona Camerons of the world. Option (2) leaves the complainant open to the accusation of harassment and intimidation if s/he fights for a just resolution based on facts and not spin by repeatedly asking for evidence of the crime s/he has been accused of. This is what I have done. For close to 18 months now.

The remaining option is: (3) appeal to someone further up the bureaucratic ladder to insist that decisions as draconian as banning a filmmaker be backed up with evidence. My attempts to get the Screen Australia Board to play such a role have got me nowhere. My attempts to get Simon Crean to get someone in his office to ask for the evidence have resulted only in one letter from a spin doctor and the office of the Ombudsman seems to accept that the correspondence you and Fiona claim to exist must exist simply because you say it does. Curiouser and curiouser!

Of course Star Chambers don’t choose their victims arbitrarily. They choose them for a reason, though rarely for the reason presented by the Star Chamber. My own problems with Screen Australia began, as you know, back in the early days of its existence when Martha Coleman declared that since I was not a ‘proven producer’ it was not possible for me to make script development applications to Screen Australia for certain projects  -  including those in which I was to play the role of ‘mentor producer’ to some young filmmakers. Having been producing films (drama and documentaries) for close to 40 years I thought Martha’s reason for refusing to even read applications from me was silly and appealed to you to apply some common sense to the situation. I was, as I explained to you, quite experienced in my craft. I had studied drama for five years at university, giving up a masters degree in drama to go a film school in Australia for a year and then to New York University to do post graduate work. I had spent 10 years, on and off, doing assessments for the Australian Film Commission and had been recommended by the AFC, more than once, to act as a mentor to young filmmakers.  And I had won an AFI screenwriting award, along with various other awards over the years. And yet, in the new look Screen Australia, I was not qualified to mentor young filmmakers!

You ignored my correspondence and, when I persisted, handed the matter on to Fiona Cameron to deal with. Fiona made it abundantly clear that what was important was not my experience but the fact that I could not, despite my experience, place a tick in the ‘proven producer’ box. “But I was the producer of BLACKFELLAS during the entire three year period of its development,” I told her, “and during the initial stages of raising money to make the film.” This cut no ice with Fiona because my name does not appear in the credits as a producer. In accordance with Screen Australia guidelines I was not ‘proven’ and, as such, could not mentor young filmmakers in a producing role. If I had been a facilities owner who had contributed equipment and/or facilities to a feature film production in return for a producer’s credit, however, I would be  qualified to act as a mentor to young filmmakers – even if I had never written a screenplay, produced or directed a film or worked in any capacity on an actual film.

Fiona’s position was nonsensical and, as you know, I fought hard to have her decision overturned.  Given that you, Martha and Fiona all refused to meet with me in person I had no option but to advocate on my own behalf through letters and emails. In not one of these have I ever used abusive language. In not one of them have I ever sought to intimidate or harass any member of your staff – unless, of course, asking the same question many times (having received no answers) constitutes harassment. As for placing your staff at risk, this is just nonsense Ruth and you know it. And so would anyone who looked at my correspondence. It is a mystery to me why you would make such a statement. Perhaps you hoped, with your fatwa, that I would toe the line and stop asking questions in public. Perhaps, by implying that you might call off your fatwa, you were hoping that I might realize that my best interests would be served in ceasing to be a public critic of Screen Australia. Or, to be more precise, being a critic of the autocratic way in which you and Fiona run Screen Australia – the primary focus of Fiona’s attention being on the correct filling out of forms and not on the quality of the ideas or screenplays that the forms accompany in the making of an application. I should qualify this. The strict adherence to the filling out of forms, to the placing of ticks in the right boxes, applies only when senior management at Screen Australia chooses to apply it. The strict adherence to guidelines becomes much less strict, however (and is often abandoned completely) when it suits members of senior management at Screen Australia. The playing field is not level and anyone who complains about this will have their complaint dealt with by someone (Fiona) who has demonstrated her lack of commitment to the playing field remaining level.

You complain of the reputational damage I have inflicted on members of Screen Australia staff (and the organization itself) but seem oblivious to the damage inflicted on my own reputation as a result of the lies that you and Fiona have placed on file. If you can’t produce the correspondence that you claim bears witness to the crimes you accuse me of, Ruth, you have effectively defamed me and you should resign. The same goes for Fiona and the correspondence she claims I have placed on file but which, as you have known for 17 months, does not exist.

Again, given that you have no interest in conciliation, I suggest that you either sue me or apologize. Alternatively, produce the correspondence and it will be me who has to apologize.

best wishes

James Ricketson


  1. James, you may not be aware that Fiona Cameron already runs Screen Australia so you're making on helluva an enemy if when Harley leaves Cameron takes over.

  2. Defamed by Harley?June 1, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    James, if you have not written the correspondence that Harley says you have it is hardly surprising that Screen Australia has decided not to sue you. If Harley has defamed you by accusing you of harassment and intimidation and placing Screen Australia staff at risk it is you who should be suing.

    1. I have neither the desire nor the financial means to sue. I will continue to have faith that at some point someone in a position of greater power than Harley, someone (or some body) with a true commitment to transparency and accountability will ask her and Fiona Cameron to produce the correspondence. When they cannot produce the correspondence (and they will not be able to because correspondence of the kind they refer to does not exist) it is to be hoped that at the very least their contracts with Screen Australia will not be renewed and that they will be replaced by either Crean or Brandis with senior bureaucrats who are committed to transparency and accountability; bureaucrats who do not abuse their power in the way that Harley and Cameron do. It is to be hoped also that Screen Australia’s new Chief Executive will see the advantages of injecting some new blood into the organization; in not renewing the contracts of any personnel in senior creative decision-making positions who have been with Screen Australia for more than three years. There is no shortage of experienced industry practitioners with qualifications equal to (and often far superior to) those who have become more of less permanent fixtures within Screen Australia and, formerly, within the AFC or the FFC.

  3. Ricketson might win this battle eventually if he keeps at it and if he is telling the truth. This will solve nothing though because for as long as Harley is in power she will guarantee that none of his projects get up. This is the way it works. For it to work any other way (if he were to receive funding) other filmmakers might get the idea that they too could challenge the status quo and get away with it. Ricketson’s real punishment, as is the case with all whistleblowers, will begin when he wins his battle