Monday, November 5, 2012

yet another letter for Rachel Perkins

Rachel Perkins
10 Cecil St.
Paddington 2021

6th Nov 2012

Dear Rachel

STAR CHAMBER: “In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers. This is a pejorative term and intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings.”

On 20th Dec there will be a trial to determine whether or not I was trespassing in the Screen Australia foyer at 4 pm on the 15th Oct. Sitting on a couch reading through correspondence handed to me by Ruth Harley just a little earlier in the day during business hours!  There will be two police witnesses and three civilian witnesses - the only one I can be sure of being Fiona Cameron. I guess poor Graham Smith will have to be there also to explain why he felt it necessary to call the police and who told him to do so. On the day he told me it was the “people upstairs” but the “people upstairs” insist that calling the cops was Graham Smith’s initiative, though why he should do so during Screen Australia business hours is a mystery that will, no doubt, be answered in court. It will be an interesting day! Do you think, Rachel, that  running yet another court case is an appropriate use of Screen Australia’s time, energy and financial resources? (How much did the Supreme Court exercize cost Screen Australia?) Do you and the board even care? What objection do you have to the idea that an independent mediator/conciliator be brought in to adjudicate the dispute on the basis of facts? This is not a rhetorical question but I know why you will not answer it now, just as you and the board have failed to answer it this past two years - because you know that the facts do not support the proposition that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff and that to acknowledge this now would raise questions about the competence of the board. When it comes to a choice between facts and spin with Screen Australia, spin wins out every time.

You will no doubt ignore this letter as you have done with all the letters I have written you this past six months. Your refusal to even acknowledge receipt of letters (especially after writing in an email on June 18th “I will look onto the matter personally, although, given the majority of the board has made the resolution, the decision will stand for at least the near future I would think”) bears witness to your own commitment to the fairly well established tradition (Habeas Corpus Act 1640) of providing an accused with evidence of his or her
crimes and giving them an opportunity to present a defense. You are not alone, of course. Glen Boreham doesn’t bother to acknowledge receipt of letters either and nor does the board as a whole. The collective position of the board seems to be: lets just ignore Ricketson. He will eventually run out of steam, give up, concede defeat and cease his relentless asking of questions we do not want to answer. I would have thought by now that it must have occurred to you and the board that in this asymmetrical battle with Screen Australia I will use whatever tactic is necessary to get answers to legitimate questions. I simply do not accept that the Screen Australia board can ban a filmmaker without making public the evidence it has relied on to justify the ban.

Some time today my blog will receive its 14,000th page view – my readership growing weekly. I have no illusions that any other than a handful of readers care one way or another about the details of my dispute. What is of interest is the way in which my dispute is symptomatic of the deeper problems that infect Screen Australia – the administration of which is without a doubt the worst I have experienced in my entire career of dealing with (and on occasion working for) Australia’s peak film funding body. The most popular blog by far (by a factor of 2:1) is: “Why is my complaint about Screen Australia of any relevant to anyone but myself.” (

Four days after posting this blog I received notification from Ruth Harley than I had been banned.

A brief recap is in order here for newcomers to this blog – the dividing line between letters to you (Glen Boreham, the board, the Prime Minister) and my blog becoming increasingly blurred. As I have written before, I have only my words, my blog, to defend myself and, at the same time, throw a ray of light onto the lack of transparency and accountability that informs Screen Australia’s way of dealing with the industry.

The initiative to have me banned began three days after I wrote my blog “Why is my complaint etc” entry when, on 9th May, Ruth Harley presented you and other members of the board with a draft letter.  Not only was Ruth asking the board to greenlight the banning of me, she was also asking the board to alter Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade in order to make the banning legal. She was asking you to do this overnight, with no opportunity to discuss the matter and certainly with no opportunity for me to defend myself.

Even with an alteration of the Terms of Trade in place, however, Ruth Harley also needed to come up with a persuasive (and legal) reason for the ban. That I had caused some members of Screen Australia staff to become ‘distressed’ upon reading my correspondence would clearly not be enough from a legal point of view. No, but if she were to claim that I had intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff, perhaps the Screen Australia board would buy it? There was a danger, of course, given the seriousness of such a charge, that a board member might ask for evidence that I had intimidated and placed at risk members of her staff but Ruth guessed, quite rightly, that no-one on the board would ask for such details. This is understandable. Board members have every right to expect that the CEO answerable to them would not lie to them about a matter as serious as this - presuming, of course, that the banning of a filmmaker (a first in Australian film history) is considered by the board to be a serious matter.

Having been misinformed regarding my intimidating and placing staff at risk with my correspondence, the Screen Australia board could be forgiven on 9th May for going along with Ruth Harley. The same excuse does not apply for the following six months, however, during which time members of the board have had ample opportunity to acquaint themselves with the facts and either ratify their original ban (based on these facts) or lift the ban - based on the same facts. The board has done neither. It has sat on its hands. Yours, Glen Boreham’s and the board’s refusal to even acknowledge receipt of my letters speaks for itself (or so it seems to me) of the board’s hope that if it buries its head in the sand this problem will simply go away. After all, what am I going to do? The Ombudswoman is a toothless tiger who also doesn’t respond to letters, Simon Crean couldn’t care less and the office of the Prime Minister likewise does not bother to acknowledge receipt of letters.

The problem now, I suspect, is that the board cannot castigate Ruth Harley for misleading it without also accepting responsibility for having done nothing this past six months to rectify its having endorsed Ruth’s ban. The board now ‘owns’ this problem - if, indeed, the board sees the banning of a filmmaker as a problem worthy of its attention. If it is not, all filmmakers who have the temerity to expect transparency, accountability, honesty, decisions made on the basis of facts, not spin and old fashioned professional good manners from Screen Australia could find themselves in precisely the position I am in now - banned (either officially or unofficially) and with no-one to whom they can turn for help.

What better way to silence critics! Critics who are also filmmakers reliant in so many ways on Screen Australia. And, of course, once silenced, Screen Australia can present to the Minister (whoever he or she may be) the proposition that because there is no (or little) criticism of the way in which the organization is run there must be no problems at all that need to be addressed.” Add to this a non-functioning complaints process, administered by someone (Fiona Cameron) who investigates complaints about herself, and you have the perfect conjunction of circumstances that enable senior management to act with impunity - secure in the knowledge that the board will accept this state of affairs.

In managerial terms, Ruth Harley made a big mistake in making her ban on me official (a huge cockup) and hence giving me, at least in theory, the opportunity to fight it, if only on a blog in cyberspace. It would have made much more sense to make the ban unofficial, leaving me with not a leg to stand on if I made any kind of complaint regarding individual projects. I would not, of course, be the first or nor will I be the last to be unofficially banned. Ruth’s decision to call the cops (or was it Fiona?) was likewise a really stupid management decision. It is the stupidity of these decisions that should, I believe, raise serious doubts about the way in which Screen Australia is managed and whether Ruth Harley is the right person for the job.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. My being banned in a manner reminiscent of Star Chambers of 17th century is of no real consequence to anyone but myself but, symptomatic as it is of deeper problems within Screen Australia, it is of great consequence to the industry at large.

In conclusion I repeat the request made to you in my letter of 17th Oct and to Glen Boreham on 29th Oct that I be allowed to address the board on 9th and present my own defence on the charges laid against me - namely that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. Given the consequences for my career of your ban, this request is not an unreasonable one. If the board has evidence that I am guilty as charged, please make it public. If the board has no evidence, it should lift the ban on 9th Nov and apologize for having imposed it in the first place. Don’t just sit on your hands in the hope (vain, I can assure you) that by doing nothing this problem will simply disappear. If this was happening to you, Rachel, you would not be sitting on your hands. You would be fighting tooth an nail to see to it that justice prevailed.

best wishes

James Ricketson


  1. You're pissing in the wind, Ricketson. Rachel P has her snout buried deep in the trough of Screen Australia monies and is not going to lift it out to help you get your nose in the trough. Man up, acept that you've been screwed and move on.

  2. James, you are either very naive or unrealistically optimistic to expect that the Board will allow you to appear before it to present your defines. To allow you to do so would be to create a precedent that enabled other filmmakers to do the same. And Rachel is not going to come to your rescue at this late date, not because she has her snout in the trough but because, as you have intimated, to do so at this late date would raise the question of why it has taken her (and the board) six months to bother to look at the facts. My guess is that the board will do nothing at all on 9th Nov, thus maintaining the status quo and leaving you with no option but to keep writing your sometimes entertaining and informative but mostly pointless blog.