Dear Ms Vardanega
Sunday, July 3, 2016
Being provided with evidence of my alleged offences does not get any easier after four years!
Please find attached my letter of 29th June to Graeme Mason, Chief Executive, Screen Australia. As is the case with yourself, Mr Mason refuses to provide me with any evidence that I intimidated, harassed or placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff prior to May 2012.
The Australian Government Solicitor website has the following to say about:
Dispute resolution and litigation
AGS is the government specialist in resolving and managing disputes – through alternative dispute resolution (including mediation, arbitration and conciliation) and litigation. We act in all types of matters – from small claims and disputes, to the largest and most sensitive litigation matters in which the Commonwealth is involved.
We take a solutions-focused approach and work with you to identify and pursue the most suitable method (or combination of methods) for dispute resolution.
This reads well but does not reflect the way in which you or your predecessor have dealt with this matter. Far from engaging in ‘dispute resolution’ Mr Govey threw fuel on the fire back in 2012 when he denied me any form of hearing relating to the charges laid against me; denied me even the basics of due process. I should have been appraised of the evidence that Ruth Harley had presented to Mr Govey and been given an opportunity to defend myself. Rather than acting as a Star Chamber, the Australian Government Solicitor should have engaged in “mediation, arbitration and/or conciliation.”
In June 2016 I still have no idea what evidence Ruth Harley presented to Mr Govey. His Star Chamber approach to dispute resolution should not be the modus operandi of the Australian Government Solicitor. Nor should it be yours. You are creating here a dangerous precedent. Senior bureaucrats in government departments can obtain permission from yourself to destroy the career and reputation of a person reliant on that government department, secure in the knowledge that they will never be called upon to provide evidence of the offences they claim to have been committed. You are giving the imprimatur of your approval to senior bureaucrats who wish to silence critics with the implied threat that their careers can be destroyed if they wish to exercise their right to freedom of speech; if they have the temerity to hold bureaucrats such as Ruth Harley, Fiona Cameron and Graeme Mason accountable for their actions.
I will direct my next (and last) letter on this matter to the Attorney General in the hope that he may appreciate the fundamental right of a person accused of an offence being appraised of the evidence against them and being given an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.
If do not receive even acknowledgement of receipt of my correspondence from Senator Brandis (this seems to be standard operating procedure with Ministers on both sides of the political divide) I will commence proceedings in the Supreme Court to obtain a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Ian Govey in 2012.
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007 29th June 2016
The assertions you make in your letter of 14th June are based on a fundamental lie. And you know it. The lie is that Fiona Cameron and Ruth Harley provided me with evidence that I had intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff in correspondence prior to May 2012.
Whilst lies are easily told (facts, evidence and logic can be thrown to the wind), the truth must base itself on facts, on evidence and on logic. Some detail is required here – the kind of detail that the Supreme Court will rely on if, as seems inevitable now, this matter winds up in that court.
In 2012 I requested, through FOI, that Screen Australia provide me with evidence I had intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence. Fiona Cameron’s response, after multiple refused requests, was to provide me with copies of most of my correspondence with Screen Australia for the previous few years. She handed this to me as I sat quietly in the foyer. I looked through this voluminous document, paying attention to the highlighted parts of it, searching for evidence that I was guilty as charged. There was none. I asked Fiona to pinpoint the evidence for me. Her response was to tell me that she ‘felt’ intimidated by my correspondence. A brief conversation between us ensued relating to the difference between ‘feeling’ intimidated and actually being intimidated. The distinction was lost on Fiona. As far as she was concerned her ‘feeling’ of being intimidated was what counted; not evidence that I had intimidated her. Shortly after this conversation Fiona asked the man in charge of the building’s security to call the police. This was mid-afternoon during the working week and I was doing nothing other than sitting in the foyer! The police arrived and I was arrested in the foyer of Screen Australia. I felt somewhat intimidated!
In handing to me this voluminous document, providing me with no clues as to which parts of it were evidence of an offence worthy of the ban placed on me, Fiona revealed her contempt for both the spirit and the word of FOI legislation; that she had no interest in transparency or accountability; that she would use any and every bureaucratic trick at her disposal to create the illusion that due process had been followed; that I had, in fact, been provided with evidence of my guilt. The kindest word that I can apply to Fiona’s actions vis a vis FOI is ‘cynical’. The kindest word I can apply to her having me arrested rather than provide me with evidence of my guilt is ‘cowardly’.
(A few weeks later, again in pursuit of evidence of my guilt, I arrived in the Screen Australia foyer and sat quietly, reading a book, waiting for it. The police were called and I was arrested again. I spent the weekend in jail. I can think of no word that adequately describes the Screen Australia board’s approval of Fiona’s behaviour. Do the allegations against me made by Ruth Harley, in her submission to the Australian Government Solicitor, paint a rather frightening portrait of myself as someone whose very presence in the foyer placed SA staff at risk? The $64,000 question!)
Four years later you are quoting directly from Fiona’s playbook. Groundhog Day! You know that I have never been presented with evidence of the kind that would pass muster in a court of law or for any independent observer/arbitrator/conciliator whose job it was to determine where the truth lies. Your response, as with Fiona’s, is the equivalent to answering a simple question by handing the questioner an Encyclopaedia and saying, “You will find the answer in here,” and then claiming to have answered the question. Fiona’s and your throwing responsibility of finding the needle in the haystack back onto myself and the Ombudsman is rendered all the more absurd by the fact that there is no needle to be found. You know this – hence your need to go along with the fiction that evidence has already been presented to me.
This Three Card Monty bureaucratic trick worked with the Ombudsman so well that Kent Purvis has declared the question of ‘evidence’ to be closed. Ruth Harley’s declaration that there was a smoking gun was enough for the Ombudsman in 2012. In 2016 my own insistence over four years on being shown the smoking gun is presented by your harassment on my part; harassment of the kind that warrants my being banned again.
Will the Ombudsman, represented this time around by Kent Purvis, be baffled by your insistence that I have been provided with evidence a third time around? Probably. There would be too much egg on too many faces within the office of the Ombudsman were it to be revealed that it never bothered to ask for evidence of my guilt back in 2012.
Having successfully pulled off this FOI trick in 2012 the last thing you want now is for me to be asking in 2016, through FOI, for evidence in support of your latest 2 year ban. The best way to cut me off at the pass, you have decided, is with a pre-emptive attack – effectively banning me from making any further FOI requests on the spurious (actually, nonsensical!) grounds that the 2012 exercise in Three Card Monty FOI trickery also covers 2016 FOI requests from myelf. Really, Graeme, you could at least try to be original; to come up with some new and imaginative way of preventing the truth from coming out!
As for your assertions that I complained that ‘Chanti’s World’ had not been funded, you know this to be a lie. Just as you will provide no evidence that I intimidated or placed anyone at risk, nor will you provide any evidence for this assertion – because there is no evidence. What you have done here, what Fiona Cameron did before you (more than five years ago) is to conflate a complaint about ‘process’ with a complaint about ‘outcome’. You can get away with such bureaucratic obfuscation because you know, from experience, that the Ombudsman has no interest in facts, in evidence.
For the benefit of both the Kent Purvis (representing the office of the Ombudsman) and Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting) a brief explanation is in order here. All that I write here is backed up by my correspondence with Screen Australia; the same correspondence that you claim as evidence of the need to destroy my career as an Australian filmmaker.
As you know (but perhaps Kent and Louise do not) an application to Screen Australia for development monies for a documentary usually involves the submission of a written document and a ‘promo’ – an audio/visual record of the filming that has been done to date. This audio/visual record reveals, much more than a written account, the strengths and weaknesses of the documentary project. In the case of ‘Chanti’s World’ I submitted both a written document and a promo. My ‘promo’ was a compilation of key moments from a documentary I had been working on for 14 years – following an 8 year girl by the name of Chanti from being a street kid scavenger to a young mother of (at the time) four children. Her two eldest daughters had been illegally removed from her care by an Australian NGO run by Brisbane-based Citipointe church.
The decision to either fund or not fund the development monies I had applied for was made by three Screen Australian employees, Claire Jager, Ross Mathews and Julia Overton – all of whom admitted, after my application had been knocked back, that they had not viewed the ‘promo’ I had submitted. It was this I objected to; it was this I complained about. There were other elements to my complaint about the lack of due process (all on record) but the important point here is that the record shows (if anyone bothered to look at it) that my complaint was about ‘process’; not ‘outcome’. It suited Fiona Cameron’s purposes to put in writing that I had come away from my meeting with Claire Jager, Ross Mathews and Julia Overton believing that ‘Chanti’s World’ had been funded. This was a lie. I have never in my life complained about not receiving funding. To put such a lie on record and refuse to correct it was unacceptable to me but rather than simply correct it, Screen Australia decided to dig its heels in, circle the wagons around Fiona and go along with her version of ‘the truth.’
You know all this, Graeme, but have decided, for your own reasons, to repeat Fiona’s lies – in the hope, perhaps, that if you keep repeating them long enough that they will become ‘the truth’. It is not a matter of any concern to you that Fiona’s initial lie, followed by Ruth Harley’s lies about my intimidating staff and placing them at risk have destroyed my career as an Australian filmmaker. And now, having bought into the lies, made them your own, you must say and do whatever is necessary to see to it that Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Ian Govey does not see the light of day.
The lengths to which you are going (as did Fiona and Ruth before you) to keep evidence of my alleged guilt secret invites speculation on my part. Is it because you know that Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Govey contains lies so blatant that Screen Australia’s case for banning me would fall apart if its contents were known? Is it because you know, Screen Australia’s legal department knows, that I could sue for damages if there were irrefutable evidence that Ruth Harley lied in her submission?
Graeme, in the first days of your tenure as Chief Executive, (11th Nov 2013) I wrote to you with a suggestion as to the best way to resolve this matter. For the benefit of Ms Vardanega and Kent Purvis, I will quote from it at length:
In May 2012 Ruth Harley recommended to the Board that I be banned from making applications to Screen Australia or speaking with members of staff. The reason given was that I had intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff. The Board altered SA’s Terms of Trade in order to make such a ban possible.
For 18 months I have been asking Ruth Harley and the Board to provide me with evidence that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff. My requests have been ignored.
I had hoped it would not be necessary to involve you in this dispute. It is unfair that both Ruth Harley and the Board have left me with no option, now that you are Chief Executive, but to ask you to either provide me with evidence of my crimes or lift the ban.
….If none of the suggestions I have made to resolve this matter appeal to you (one being: http://jamesricketson.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/simple-solution.html), there is one more I would like to make. It is that you and I and Fiona Cameron meet to discuss whatever evidence Screen Australia believes it has in support of the ban. If Fiona can point to anywhere in my correspondence where I suggested or even implied that I believed CHANTI’S WORLD had been greenlit and if either of you can point to even one phrase in my correspondence that places the intended recipient at risk or which is intimidating, I will accept my ban and say no more.
If, on the other hand, Fiona cannot identify where in my correspondence I expressed my belief that CHANTI’S WORLD had been greenlit and if neither of you can identify anything in my correspondence that is intimidating etc. the ban should be lifted. This could be done with a minimum of fuss and could be announced by SA along the lines of: “The dispute between James Ricketson and Screen Australia has been amicably resolved and the ban on him has been lifted.” We could agree that neither I nor Screen Australia will comment further. That will be the end of the matter and I can get back to simply making films and stop fighting for the right to be able to make them unencumbered by the Screen Australia ban.
In the interests of constructive dialogue and debate I have enclosed here also some pages I have written regarding a radical re-thinking of the script development process. Regardless of the proliferation of broadcast platforms and low cost cameras and editing systems we still fall down badly in the script department. The reasons for this are many but one of the important ones is that the process by which Screen Australia assesses and delivers financial support to screenwriters is inefficient in its allocation of human and financial resources and actively works against the development of ‘dangerous’ screenplays that have the potential to elicit the ‘wow’ response in our audiences – be they in an Imax theatre or engaging in one of our stories on their mobile phone.
I wish you well in your new job and hope that you will usher in an era of transparency and accountability within Screen Australia and put an end to the nepotism that has been rampant for some years now.
You ignored this letter. For your own reasons you decided to back Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron come hell or high water – regardless of the facts. That the ban had made it impossible for me to take advantage of a pre-sale offer from National Geographic for ‘Chanti’s World’ was of no concern to you. Fiona Cameron must be protected at all costs! The National Geographic pre-sale, had I been allowed to speak with members of Screen Australia staff (a necessary pre-requisite if I were take advantage of the Producer’s Offset) killed off this $350,000 documentary. Now, as I approach 21 years of recording Chanti’s life it is impossible for me to even have a conversation with international broadcasters and distributors about the project. It is simply not possible to explain to them with any credibility, when they ask (as they do) why it is that I cannot take advantage of the Producer’s Offset. On the two occasions that I have tried to explain the ban on me eyes have glazed over and discussion about the project come to an abrupt end.
I will ask one last time, Graeme, for you to supply me with a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission to the Australian Government Solicitor – the document that contains the evidence upon which Mr Govey gave the stamp of his approval to my being banned and all that has flowed from this.
cc Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)
Mr Kent Purvis, Office of the Ombudsman
Kingston Anderson, Australian Director’s Guild.