Monday, June 24, 2013

"Hopefully Ruth Harley will be replaced with a Chief Executive who does not play fast and loose with the truth, who is not given to spiteful acts of revenge and who is committed to transparency and accountability in his or her dealings with the industry."

to Caroline Fulton, Director, Screen Industry Section, Creative Sector Development Branch, Office for the Arts

Dear Caroline

In my last email to you I asked you the following question:

If, as Director of the Screen Industry Section, you become aware that the Chief Executive of Screen Australia has lied in falsely accusing a filmmaker of intimidation etc., do you have any power at all to rebuke the Chief Executive or is s/he free to lie with impunity and so defame a filmmaker and cause enormous damage to his or her career?

You did not answer it, of course. You do not answer any questions at all. Your idea of transparency and accountability is to ‘note the contents’ of correspondence. This is bureaucratic short-hand for “The questions you have asked will be ignored but I will, on record, create the illusion that I have dealt with them appropriately.”

The next stage in this particular bureaucratic sleight of hand is for another bureaucrat to write to the persistent asker of questions,  “It is my understanding that Caroline Fulton has addressed the concerns outlined in your correspondence and this department does not believe that there is any value to be gained from any further canvassing of these issues.” And so it goes.

Perform this three cup trick often enough and most askers of questions will give up on their quest – realizing not only that they will never receive answers but will, in all likelihood, be punished for asking them. And those questioners who keep on asking the questions month after month and insisting on answers (you are, after all, a public servant and it is your job to be accountable and transparent!) can then be characterized by these same bureaucrats as having harassed and intimidated those to whom the questions have been addressed. Indeed, in order to make the questioner seem a terrifying and perhaps unhinged individual, (and easier to marginalize) the accusation of ‘placing members of staff at risk’ can be added to the charge sheet. How one places a member of staff at Screen Australia at risk with their correspondence need not be explained and remains a mystery to me. The only way that the ‘placing at risk’ accusation could make any sense at all is if the correspondent made a threat of some kind – albeit as subtle as “I know where you live,” or “You will regret this” or a statement of this kind. Have I ever, in any of my correspondence made such a statement? Have I ever used a swear word? Or has my correspondence been almost entirely made up of my asking of questions – the truthful answers to which would prove embarrassing to senior management at Screen Australia, the Screen Australia board and yourself?

You cannot and will not answer any questions from me relating to the existence of my alleged correspondence (any more than the Screen Australia Board will) because neither of the two possible answers will suffice. A ‘yes’ answer to the question of its existence would oblige you to present evidence that I have intimidated etc staff. A ‘no’ answer would result in your having egg on your face as you would be publicly admitting that I should never have been banned in the first place on the basis of baseless charges.

Given that neither of these is a particularly palatable path to follow, the best and most obvious solution for a bureaucrat such as yourself is to ‘note’ my questions  but refuse to answer them. Hopefully, when Minister for the Arts, Senator Brandis will have higher expectations of those answerable to him!

That all this is happening to me is, needless to say, very annoying and interferes with my capacity to work as an independent filmmaker, However,  my travails in this respect are not that important. What is important here is the lack of transparency and accountability that lies at the heart of Screen Australia as run by Ruth Harley. Will the new Chief Executive operate in accordance with the modus operandi practiced by Ruth Harley or will s/he engage in meaningful dialogue with the industry, take on board all legitimate criticism, respond to questions relating to the way the organization is run, deal appropriately with complaints on the basis of facts, evidence, (as opposed to spin) and be committed generally to the precepts of transparency and accountability?

I trust that whoever is tasked with making this decision is not going to saddle Australian film with another Ruth Harley for the next five years. As I wrote in my last email to you:

“Hopefully Ruth Harley will be replaced with a Chief Executive who does not play fast and loose with the truth, who is not given to spiteful acts of revenge and who is committed to transparency and accountability in his or her dealings with the industry as a whole and with individual filmmakers. Nonetheless, if s/he is not, to whom will s/her be accountable within the Ministry for the Arts?”

My latest blog entry speaks for itself:



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