Saturday, January 16, 2016

Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts, breaches his ministerial responsibilities

It is now roughly six weeks since I sent a second letter to Senator Mitch Fifield Minister for Communications and the Arts.

I have received no response; not even an acknowledgment that my letter (as with the one I sent 6 weeks before that) have been received.

Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications and the Arts
Level 2
4 National Circuit
Barton, ACT 2600

7th Dec. 2015

Dear Senator Fifield

It is now six weeks since I wrote to you regarding the ban placed on me by Screen Australia. I have received no acknowledgement of my letter’s receipt from your office.

It is disappointing that we have, as our new Minister, someone who seems to approve of the notion that critics of Screen Australia (or any other arts body within your portfolio) can be banned by senior bureaucrats with no evidence at all provided that they are guilty of the crime they have been charged with committing!

42 months is a long time to wait to be provided with such evidence!

In my own case, I am not guilty of having either intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff with my correspondence. What I am guilty of is exercising my right to free speech, my right to be critical of Screen Australia and my insistence that senior members of Screen Australia management and members of the board be accountable for their actions; that they not play fast and loose with the truth.

My various requests of the Commonwealth Ombudsman that his office as Screen Australia for evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of SA staff have fallen on deaf ears. The Ombudsman has given his tacit approval to my banning and will ask no questions. And so it is that our rights, as citizens, to free speech are slowly eroded. Others who might be expected to advocate my right to be provided with evidence of my crimes (the Australian Director’s Guild, for instance) remain silent for fear of bureaucratic retribution.

No filmmaker wants to have either an informal or a form ban placed on them by Screen Australia.

I have little choice but to accept that Screen Australia’s ban will last the rest of my life and have adjusted my filmmaking plans accordingly. I can no longer take advantage of the tax concessions in place to assist filmmakers such as myself tell Australian stories for an Australian audience. Perhaps it is no bad thing that I must now think of myself as a ‘filmmaker of the world’ who just happens to be Australian; but banned in his own country.
It is a little late in my career to be making this transition, but where there is a will there is a way, and I continue, one way or another, to make films – despite Screen Australia’s determination to do everything it can to prevent me from doing so.

I will continue to advocate my right to be provided with evidence in support of the ban placed on me. The actual ban does not bother me too much anymore. Even if the official ban were to be lifted tomorrow, the unofficial ban that was in place before May 2012, would continue. And nor am I, as I have been for so long, interested in an apology from the Screen Australia board. The time for an apology is long since past. Any apology now would be insincere.

I ask only (and will continue to keep asking) that someone within Screen Australia or within your ministry point out to me (and my fellow filmmakers) one example of my having intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff in my correspondence. Just  one example.

If no such evidence can be provided, an acknowledgment from the Screen Australia board  that Ruth Harley lied is in order. And an acknowledgment that the Screen Australia board banned me not on the basis of evidence but on the basis of Harley’s vindictive lie is in order. And an acknowledgment that the Screen Australia board has continued the ban on me for close to four years now in the full knowledge that I neither intimidated or placed at risk anyone is in order.

If you cannot see that a Screen Australia board that is not accountable to anyone (including yourself) is a problem, do not be surprised if, at some point during your tenure as Minister, it becomes apparent that you should have kept your eye more firmly on the ball.

I have enclosed my most recent letter to Graeme Mason, Screen Australia CEO, and Nerida Moore, Screen Australia’s Senior Development Executive. It speaks for itself of one of the biggest problems facing Australian film – second rate bureaucrats who allow themselves to be dictated to by a board whose filmmaking members feel no embarrassment at all in voting large amounts of money for their own film and TV projects. One of these, Dianne Weir, it has been suggested, is a contender to replace Mark Scott as Managing Director at the ABC. The notion that the new head of the ABC might be someone who believes it appropriate to ban filmmakers fills me with dread. And the possible appointment of Dianne Weir as Managing Director should raise serious concerns about her commitment to freedom of speech for the entire filmmaking, TV producing and arts community in Australia and the general public.

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc Graeme Mason
     Nerida Moore
     Commonwealth Ombudsman
     Screen Australia Board
     Australian Directors Guild

From the internet, re Ministerial Responsibility.
Some general points of principle in handling ministerial correspondence are:
it is the expectation of the people who write to ministers that they will receive a reply, however brief;
correspondence should be handled expeditiously and, where a timely reply is not possible, an interim acknowledgment giving reasons for the delay should be sent;
replies should contain an expression of genuine appreciation of the correspondence and make specific reference, however minimal, to at least some of the key points or issues raised; and
replies should be signed by someone at an appropriate level.

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