Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freedom of Information request

Mr Jacob Suidgeest
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
GPO Box 5218
Sydney, NSW 2001

Dear Mr Suidgeest

I have been attempting, for some time now, utilizing FOI legislation, to acquire documents from Screen Australia. I first asked (though not through FOI) for these documents around 20 months ago and then, on 16th March this year, made an FOI request for them. Some documents were sent to me but the most relevant documents were not included. In my 8th August letter to Ruth Harley, Chief Executive of Screen Australia, I wrote:

There is one lot of correspondence that I have not been sent as a result of my FOI request. I quote from my email to Nick Coyle of 16th March 2012.

I have another FOI request – most definitely the oddest I have ever made and, I suspect, the oddest one you will ever have to deal with. It is for a document (or documents) that do not exist. Let me explain:

In Nov 2010 Fiona Cameron wrote a letter to me that included the following assertion:

Unfortunately it appears from your correspondence that you came away from that meeting with an understanding that your application for further funding for Chanti’s World had been effectively green lit. This is not the case. Nor could it be.”

For 16 months I have asked Fiona to produce the correspondence she refers to. She has not done so. This is not surprising because it does not exist. Not only does Fiona know it does not exist but so too do Ruth Harley and Glen Boreham. And the Commonwealth Ombudsman would have discovered that it did not exist also if he had bothered to ask Fiona Cameron to produce it. He did not. He simply accepted Fiona’s word (implicit in her letter) that it existed!

Ms Harley did not reply to this letter or acknowledge receipt of it. I anticipated that this would be the case and so, on 9th August I wrote the following to Screen Australia’s FOI officer, Nick Coyle:

The first and most obvious observation to make about the result of my FOI request is that it does not include, as requested, the correspondence Fiona Cameron refers to in her letter of 12th Nov 2010. To refresh your memory:

Unfortunately it appears from your correspondence ..etc.”

If the correspondence Fiona claims I have written does in fact exist I have been wasting the time of a lot of people by continuing to ask for it this past 18 months. (Mind you, Fiona could have identified it 18 months ago when first asked to do so!) If the correspondence does not exist, which I claim to be the case, Fiona has allowed this dispute to fester this past 18 months based on a false premise. So too have Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board. Indeed, it is clearly Screen Australia’s contention that my continuing to ask Fiona to produce the correspondence is evidence of the crime for which I have been banned, as you make clear, Nick, by including the following on the first page of evidence you sent to me of my “intimidating, harassing and placing Screen Australia staff at risk,” written by myself to Fiona on 25th Nov. 2010.

Contrary to what you say in your letter, I have never suggested, in any of my correspondence that the meeting with Ross and Julia on August 25th. was “to discuss, let alone pre-empt a funding decision on, the merits of any particular documentary project.” You have set up a straw man here, Fiona, misrepresenting the context to make it seem that I came away from the meeting in the expectation that CHANTI’S WORLD “had been effectively green lit.” (The word ‘disingenuous springs to mind!) Please, Fiona, point to any one statement in any of my correspondence that suggests or even implies that I believed CHANTI’S WORLD had been green lit? You will not find one. To suggest this is an insult to both my professionalism and my integrity.

This is the question I have been asking for more than 20 months now – my continued asking of it now constituting evidence of my placing Screen Australia staff at risk!

Nick, could you please, at this late hour, provide me with copies of the correspondence that Fiona Cameron claims I wrote in which I made it clear that I believed ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit. Please do not send me every email or letter I have ever sent to Fiona. I would like to have copies of the specific correspondence that Fiona is referring to. Given that it is now five months since I made this request through FOI could you please provide me with copies of this correspondence today or identify by date and mode of transmission (email or letter) when I sent them.

I have received no response from Mr Coyle. My inability to acquire the correspondence I have requested from Screen Australia (and which has been cited as the reason why I am banned from even speaking with members of Screen Australia staff or making applications of any kind to the organization) has left me with no option other than to seek, through a defamation action in the Supreme Court of NSW, to force Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron to release and/or identify the correspondence in which it is claimed I have harassed, intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. That I should need to utilize the services of the Supreme Court on 5th Sept. to acquire it is just absurd. To be banned on the basis of correspondence I have supposedly written and to be denied knowledge of when I wrote it or what I wrote and in what form I sent it is Kafkaesque in the extreme.

I would appreciate it if you could ask Nick Coyle to either release the requested correspondence or provide me with a reason why it cannot be released to me.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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