Thursday, August 30, 2012

Last ditch letter to the office of the Ombudsman

Stephen Nowicki
Senior Investigation Officer
Melbourne Office
Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office
GPO Box 442
ACT 2601 31st August 2012

Dear Stephen

You can bring the dispute between myself and Screen Australia to an end today if you wish. Here’s how.

1. Call Ruth Harley and request that she provide you with the evidence Screen Australia intends to produce in the Supreme Court next Wednesday in support of its proposition that I have, in my correspondence, intimidated, harassed and placed at risk, members of Screen Australia’s staff. Given that the court case is only five days away Ruth (and/or Screen Australia’s legal department) will have copies of the evidence on hand so any declaration from her that she needs time etc would be disingenuous.

2. You look at the correspondence and form an opinion as to whether or not what you have read is justification for Screen Australia’s ban on me. If you believe that I have intimidated, harassed and place at risk members of Screen Australia staff with my letters, come out and say so in language appropriate to your role in the office of the Ombudsman. I can then chose, before 4 pm today, to either drop my case in the Supreme Court or proceed with it. Conversely, if you do not believe that there is evidence in my correspondence to warrant my being banned, come out and say this also. In this scenario it would be Screen Australia that then had to decide whether it wanted to proceed to the Supreme Court next Wed. and hope that the Court forms a different opinion vis a vis the correspondence than the one you have arrived at.

Whilst of no concern to your office, in order for Screen Australia to avoid appearing in court next Wednesday it would be necessary for Ruth Harley to acknowledge that there is no intimidating correspondence from me, no correspondence that any ‘reasonable person’ would interpret as Ruth has chosen to in her banning of me. An apology from Ruth and the Screen Australia Board will be graciously accepted by myself.

In pursuing some version of what I am suggesting here you would be saving a lot of time, energy and money on the part of several interested parties. And, you would be saving the Supreme Court from having to deal with a matter that should have been dealt with long before now by your office anyway. You will protest at this, of course, so let me quote the bulk of my letter to Elisa Harris from your office dated 5th Jan 2011. Some familiar themes emerge in it:

5th Jan 2010

You wrote, on 13th Dec: “It is not the role of the Ombudsman to...adjudicate disputed versions of events between agency officers and complainants.” Fair enough, but surely an important part of the Ombudsman’s role is to at least find out if there is a dispute about a version of an event! From the tone of your letter (“Clearly Ms Cameron has reviewed...”) it seems that you may not have even asked her whether my version of events is true or if she has another version to offer.

What has led you to believe that Ms Cameron has ‘clearly’ reviewed what occurred at the 25th. August meeting? Is this because she told you she had reviewed it? It seems, from your letter, that you spoke with her. If so, what was the result of her review? Did you ask her? Did she dispute my version of what was said in the meeting? Or, if Ms Cameron did not tell you that she had reviewed what was said in the meeting, how can you be clear that she did, in fact, review it?

Please, Elisa, ask Fiona Cameron what her understanding is of what was said in the meeting? Ask if my version is the same as her own. Ask what her version is. If you are not going to ask this central, critical, question, and insist upon an answer, I have clearly wasted my time making a complaint to the Ombudsman’s office in the first place. Fiona Cameron and the others who have refused to answer this one question must be delighted that they have been able to snow you with spin. Did you ask Ross Mathews and Julia Overton if my version of what was said is true or not? If not, please do.

Why is it important that this question be asked and answered? In a nutshell, if it goes unanswered a version of what has taken place goes on file that is untrue. I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about being lied to and about having lies placed on file – even if they are, in the grand scheme of things, trivial. Let me amplify. When I started to make a complaint last year and withdrew it, a significant part of my complaint would have been that Fiona Cameron had, in another matter, played fast and loose with the truth. She wrote to me statements, copied to others, that were not only untrue but that were demonstrably untrue – as would have been apparent to anyone who bothered to look at the facts. When I suggested to Fiona that she rely on the facts and not on spin she wrote to me to tell me that she would not communicate with my any further.

In her letter of 12th. November Fiona again plays fast and loose with the truth. Her letter is an exercize in spin. Life being too short to point out to her, in detail, just how factually incorrect her letter was I wrote to her to address only one of her many inaccuracies. And what do I get back from Fiona in response? An email to let me know that she would not communicate with me any further.

Fiona’s modus operandi (and she is not alone in government bureaucracies) is (1) Ignore emails/letters for as long as possible, (2) Write a response that (a) does not answer questions, (b) is not based on the facts (c) is demonstrably untrue and (3) When (a), (b) and (c) are pointed out to her she writes that she will communicate no more on the matter. The end result for the complainant is that a version of events goes on file that is totally untrue and the bureaucrat, having been neither transparent or accountable (indeed, having lied) has reinforced the notion that it is possible to act with impunity in whatever way they wish without being called to account.

In any dispute there are bound to be both facts and assertions. All assertions by the complainant or the person about whom a complaint is being made should be taken by the Ombudsman with a grain of salt. You have not done so in this instance. You have presumed that there is another version of what was said in the meeting of 25th.August without even asking what it is or enquiring as to whether or not it is true. If Ross Mathews, Julia Overton and Liz Crosby all say that my version of what was said is untrue, if all three provide you with a different version, you are confronted with two different sets of assertions and cannot, of course, pick between them. Someone is lying but how can you know who? However, if Ross, Julia and Liz all agree that I was told in the 25th.August meeting that my CHANTI’S WORLD application was ‘appropriate’ then this becomes a fact; a fact that leads to the not unreasonable question: “How could Julia Overton refer to it as ‘inappropriate’?

On the question of ‘facts’ I have attached my 25th.Nov. 2010 letter to Fiona (a copy of which was sent to your office) in which I ask Fiona to present me with evidence for assertions she has made in her 12th.Nov. letter. She doesn’t deal with the facts, however, but in an email to me presents more spin and then, in a subsequent email, declares that she will communicate with me not further.

Please, Elisa, ask Fiona, Ross and Julia the question. Deal with the facts. Beware of spin. Work on the presumption that just as I may be lying about what was said in the meeting, so too might Ross, Julia and Fiona. I think that you will find, however, if you ask them right upfront, that they will agree with my version – though they may try to couch their agreement in a cloud of obfuscating detail such as Fiona presented in her 12th. Nov. letter.

If Elisa Harris had asked the right questions in late 2010 and early 2010 this dispute would have been nipped in the bud by the end of Jan 2011. The office of the Ombudsman would have been in possession of the correspondence from me that either confirmed or did not that I came away from the meeting of 25th Oct believing ‘Chanti’s World’ had been greenlit. (I was only provided with cpies of this correspondence yesterday.) If the evidence suggested that Fiona Cameron was right, end of story. If the evidence suggested that Fiona Cameron was wrong, Elisa could then have asked Fiona why she had not dealt with the substance of my complaint:

Did you ask Ross Mathews, Julia Overton, Claire Jager and Liz Crosby if Mr Ricketson was correct in claiming that both Claire and Ross admitted to not having viewed his ‘promo’?”

You could ask this question today, Stephen. Call Ross Mathews, Claire Jager and Liz Crosby At Screen Australia (Julia Overton no loner works there). Put the question to them, as I have done countless times. I think you will find that all three will say, “James is right.” I would also be curious know, at this late date, if you can find anything in the letters sent to me yesterday by Nick Coyle that suggests or implies that I came away from the meeting on Oct 2010 believing that ‘Chanti’s World’ had been ‘greenlit’?

If it is not possible for your office to make a decision vis a vis my banning today, I trust that you will be able to do so before next Wednesday. You would be saving the time and energy of a lot of people if you were to pursue the two step plan mentioned above – most particularly the Supreme Court which will, otherwise, have to deal with a dispute that will, I suspect, make the presiding judge shake his or her head in wonder and ask (and not rhetorically!) why s/he is having to hear this case!

best wishes

James Ricketson

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