Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My most 'intimidating' letter

Rachel Perkins
Blackfella Films
10 Cecil Street 
Paddington, NSW 2021 17th  Oct. 2012

Dear Rachel

Having learnt from my recent Supreme Court experience that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client,  I have sought legal advice regarding my being arrested at 4 pm in the foyer of Screen Australia’s Sydney office as I was reading through marked up correspondence provided for me by Ruth Harley. I will be pleading ‘not guilty’ on 5th Nov in the Downing Centre and, in the subsequent trial, will be calling Graham Smith, Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron as witnesses.

Given that my having been banned by the Screen Australia Board is on the agenda for your 9th Nov meeting, I request that I be given 10 minutes of the Board’s time to present a defence against the charges that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. I do appreciate that this is a slightly unusual request, but then so too is the Board’s banning of me and effectively ending my career as a filmmaker for as long as the ban remains in place.

In scouring through the marked up correspondence provided to me by Ruth two days ago (after 5 months of asking!) I came upon what I consider to be the worst piece of correspondence I have sent to anyone in relation to my dispute with Screen Australia. I include it here below, in toto, with those parts highlighted that Screen Australia believes to be evidence of my having intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. The letter was written to Caroline Fulton, Acting General Secretary, Creative Industries and Sector Development, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There are many observations one might make about this letter but that it is intimidating and places Screen Australia staff at risk is not, I think, one of them.

It may well be that my letter to Caroline Fulton is defamatory. If so, Fiona Cameron would be quite within her rights to sue me for defamation. My suspicion is that she will not do so because she knows that in the Supreme Court (even with four legal representatives) I will be able to prove that my letter is factually correct.

It is also worth noting that there is nothing in my letter that is not levelled on an almost daily basis at Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It is an integral part of her job to be transparent and accountable and, when she is not (for whatever reason) it is right and appropriate that journalists, politicians and members of the public be allowed to voice their opinions.

If you can find no evidence in my letter to Caroline Fulton of my having intimidated and placed Fiona Cameron at risk, please do consider the possibility that Ruth Harley’s ban, ratified by yourself and the board, along with her suggesting that the ban may be lifted, emanates from Ruth’s desire to silence a vocal public critic. Regardless of the reasons for my being banned I would dearly love to know what I have to do to have the ban lifted?  This is not a rhetorical question.

Caroline Fulton 
Acting Assistant Secretary
Creative Industries and Sector Development
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Office for the Arts                                    6th  Feb 2012
Dear Caroline

Many thanks for your letter of 21st Nov 2011. My apologies in taking so long to respond to it.

As for Screen Australia making a decision, at the highest level, not to engage in dialogue with the film industry, this may be it’s prerogative but it is unfortunate since it makes it easier for the body to abrogate its responsibilities to be transparent and accountable to the industry whose job it is to serve. Combine this with Screen Australia’s capacity (and proven ability) to punish anyone who dares to question the integrity or honesty of any person in senior management, and you have a  dynamic in place such that senior management can do pretty well what they please and not be held accountable by anyone – up to and including the Hon Simon Crean. This has happened in the case of my dispute with Fiona Cameron, the Documentary section of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley and the SA Board.  Whilst the dispute begins with Claire Jager’s incompetence, is amplified by Julia Overton’s refusal to answer letters and exacerbated by Ross Mathews’ refusal to deal appropriately with my complaint, it only reached boiling point as a result of Fiona Cameron’s lies. That Fiona Cameron is a liar (at least in relation to this dispute) would be affirmed by anyone who chose to look at the facts. The problem is that no-one within Screen Australia (including the Chief Executive, Ruth Harley and the Chair of the Screen Australia Board) has any interest in the facts. Fiona Cameron can lie with impunity and, despite the seniority of her position at Screen Australia and the importance that she behave with honesty and integrity, Mr Crean seems to be sublimely unconcerned and has appointed you as the spin doctor, whose job it is to make this problem go away. This is an extraordinary state of affairs and symptomatic of the problems faced by the government of which Mr Crean is a part.

I am sure, Caroline, that you take offence at being referred to as a spin doctor but that’s what you are in this instance. You write, in your final sentence: “In relation to your questions on whether specific staff are APS employees, this is a matter for Screen Australia to advise you on.” As you know from my copious correspondence I have asked Screen Australia to provide me with information regarding APS staff levels. SA has ignored my request. And the reason why it has ignored my request and can ignore all of my correspondence is because Ruth Harley, the Screen Australia Board and Fiona Cameron know that Mr Crean has little interest in whether Screen Australia is run as a transparent and accountable organization or as an unaccountable autocracy. 
Thank you for the information regarding the Chief Executive Officer and the Board being required by the Public Service Code of Conduct and by Screen Australia’s own Code of Conduct. Ruth Harley, Fiona Cameron and the Screen Australia Board do not abide by these codes of conduct, as  I have indicated in countless letters now. This lack of adherence to the Codes would be apparent to anyone who actually read my correspondence and bothered to check the facts. If my assertions are not based on demonstrable fact, why has no-one, this past 14 months, taken the five minutes it would take to point out to me that my assertions have no factual basis?  The reason, of course, is that my facts are right and Mr Crean has no more interest in the facts than anyone within the Screen Australia hierarchy. Your job is to create the illusion, on paper, that due process has occurred; that my complaint has been dealt with appropriately.

I note the following in the Screen Australia Code of Conduct:

(11) An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS. 

I cannot put it any more bluntly: Fiona Cameron is a liar. Or, in the parlance of the Code, Ms Cameron is not upholding the values and integrity and good reputation of the APS. And, in allowing her to do so, both Ruth Harley and the Board are implicated in this breach. Is this a matter of concern for Mr Crean? Clearly, the answer is ‘no’.

Let’s just presume, for argument’s sake, that lying is not a hanging offence; that Fiona Cameron playing fast and loose with the truth is not really of great consequence. I actually think it is but then maybe I’m just old-fashioned in this respect. After all we live in a world now in which lies are referred to as spin and in which people such as yourself are employed to lie on behalf of the Minister who employs you. Yes, I can understand, Caroline, that you will take offence to this but in my book (old fashioned as I am) there are sins of commission and sins of omission. Lying is not simply a matter of telling an untruth. It is also failing to acknowledge an untruth – even when it is staring you straight in the face. This is the case with Fiona Cameron’s lies. If there is any vestige of concern for facts, honesty, for transparency and accountability, could someone in Mr Crean’s office please provide me with spin-free answers to two questions:

(1) “Is the Minister, satisfied, on the basis of the facts, that Ms Cameron has been truthful in her correspondence with me?”  All that is required in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

(2) “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron, directed to Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board are referred back to Fiona Cameron to deal with?” Or, to put it another way: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron are investigated by Fiona Cameron?”  This is not the first time I have asked this question. On 16th Sept last year I wrote the following to Mr Crean:

Screen Australia has no functioning complaints system. All complaints about any matter wind up on the desk of Chief Operating Officer Ms Cameron’s – even complaints about herself. How is it possible that complaints made about Ms Cameron inability to abide by Screen Australia’s guidelines  or speak the truth are adjudicated by Ms Cameron? This is symptomatic of Screen Australia’s lack of transparency and accountability in its dealings with the film industry. To be more specific:

On 8th Sept, in a letter to CEO Ruth Harley I registered a complaint about Ms Cameron’s behaviour. The following will give some idea of the nature of my complaint:

“…questions can legitimately be asked about Fiona’s own commitment to Screen Australia guidelines. Isn’t her refusal to respond to letters a breach of SA guidelines; a breach of SA’s supposed (and oft declared) commitment to transparency and accountability? Isn’t Fiona’s tendency (of which there is ample evidence) to play fast and loose with the truth a breach of Screen Australia guidelines? Isn’t Fiona’s placing on file statements about correspondence she claims I have written to SA (but have not) a breach  SA guidelines?”

I did not receive a reply from Ms Harley. Nor did I receive a reply to my follow up letters of 12th and 13th Sept. It is not Ms Harley’s style to respond to letters; to answer questions. I did, however, get the following from Ms Cameron in an email.  

“…please do not continue to waste my time. Neither myself or any other Screen Australia representative will enter into any further correspondence regarding these matters.”  

This is Ms Cameron’s response, on Ms Harley’s behalf, to my complaint about Ms Cameron! What kind of a complaints process is this where the person being complained about can fail to deal with a complaint about herself by simply refusing to correspond any further! This is Franz Kafka territory! Or is it Alice in Wonderland? Monty Python!?

Perhaps, Caroline, you can provide me with a spin-free answer to my question: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron be adjudicated by Fiona Cameron?” The answer, of course, is no, though I imagine that a good spin doctor can come up with a semi-plausible reason why it is not inappropriate for Fiona to be investigating complaints about herself.

If senior management and the Board at Screen Australia have no interest in the facts and no concern that Fiona Cameron is (at least in her dealings with me) a liar, and if the Minister for the Arts is not concerned either, what happens if there is a major complaint about Screen Australia that relies, for its appropriate resolution, on Fiona Cameron’s honesty? My own complaint is (to all by myself) a minor one – one filmmaker treated shoddily by Screen Australia staff for having the temerity to insist on its behaving in a transparent and accountable manner. The problem for the industry, for the Australian tax-payers who fund it, is that there is no mechanism in place within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to deal with any serious breach of the APS Code of Conduct on the part of Fiona Cameron. Surely there should be in place some mechanism whereby lies such as Fiona Cameron tells (and to which Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board turn a bind eye) can be dealt with? In the SA autocracy, as it is currently structured, it would be all too easy for members of senior management and the Board to behave in a manner that abrogates the Public Service Code of Conduct in major and serious ways without there being any possibility of redress. Rumours abound as it is of such serious breaches but the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet does not have in place the mechanisms whereby such breaches can be dealt with impartially. Perhaps the rumours are just that. Scuttlebutt. The problem is that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet not only do not have any mechanisms in place to investigate such breaches. Worse, it seems not to have any interest in doing so.
On 19th Nov I wrote the following to Mr Crean:

“I have written to you several times, Mr Crean, to complain of the lack of transparency and accountability within Screen Australia. The lack of it, apparent to all of us who work within the industry and to anyone who bothered to look at the facts, makes a mockery of the Labor government’s supposed commitment to transparency and accountability.”

I imagine that this letter will be responded to (if at all) with yet more spin. However, I would love to be surprised and to have my complaints deal with impartially by someone within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who lacks skills in the fields of spin but who has a commitment to making judgements based on facts. 

In the interests of transparency I am copying this to all involved. If they wish to challenge the factual basis of anything I write here or have written previously, I hope they will. I doubt that they will, however, as what I write is based on facts – as anyone who bothered to look at the facts would realize.

If I do not get a satisfactory response from Mr Crean, I will address my next letter to the Prime Minister.

best wishes

Rachel, no one at Screen Australia, at any point this past two years, has challenged the factual basis of any assertions I have made. What does this suggest to you? I could so easily have been shot down in flames at any point since Nov 2010 if Screen Australia had the evidence, the facts, to do so.

best wishes

James Ricketson


  1. No evidence of intimidation or placing anyone at risk here but pretty offensive, Ricketson, calling Cameron a liar!

  2. If, in anything I have written, it could be proved that I had played fast and loose with the truth, been parsimonious with the truth (the euphemisms I used for the first year of my dispute) would it be offensive to call me a liar? A liar is someone who tells lies, simple as that. Fiona Cameron claimed that I had written correspondence that I knew I had not written and that it has subsequently been revealed that I did not write. What word would you use to describe this? Ruth Harley claims that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen AUstralia's staff. There is no evidence for this in the marked up correspondence provided to me, What there is evidence of is me calling a spade a spade and having the temerity to ask questions that Screen AUstralia did not like me asking because the answers, if provided truthfully, would place egg on the faces of many people. If Ruth Harley had asked the board to ban me because I called her and Fiona Cameron liars, yes, the board may have obliged. On the other hand, one member of the board might have felt inclined to ask of Ruth, "Is James telling the truth? Have you lied about x, y or z?" This would be a very awkward moment. However, accuse me of placing staff at risk, of intimidation, and understandably images arise in the mind of the board members of me behaving in a reprehensible and boorish manner - in a way, indeed, that would not make taking out an AVO on me inappropriate. If the board wishes to take me to task for calling Harley and Cameron liars, fair enough. let the board do so and, if it sees fit, ban me for writing such nasty things about them. However, right now I have been banned for intimidating and placing staff at risk. the charge is demonstrably false and the ban should be lifted immediately, like today, and, if need be, reimposed for reasons for which there is evidence.