Thursday, December 22, 2016
On the Commonwealth Ombudsman's lack of interest in facts, evidence and the truth!
If anyone reading this ever finds themselves in need of the intervention of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, do not get your hopes up too high. The Ombudsman has little interest in facts, evidence or truth when it comes to investigations of this kind. After 7 months of ‘investigating’ the latest two year ban on me (imposed in May 16) this is what the Ombudsman’s representative came up with. My response to Kent Purvis’ letter follows. The farce continues:
Dear Mr Ricketson
I apologize for the delay in this response.
As I understand it:
You believe Screen Australia’s actions are biased towards you because of statement you made about it in the past
You disagree with SA’s decision to have no contact with you until May 2018, as you believe SA has supplied no support for its decision.
You believe this office has not, at any time, properly investigated your complaints, having not asked questions you believe to be crucial to a proper assessment of the issues.
On 10th April 2016 I opened a new investigation into SA’s decision not to accept your funding applications, and not to correspond with you about funding applications, for a further period of two years (until May 2018). I requested SA to provide the basis for its decision, including copies of correspondence you sent to SA from May 2014 to May 2016.
On 29th August, having considered the information provided by SA, I notified you of my decision to finalize the investigation because in my view, SA’s decision not to communicate with you was reasonable and open to it under the circumstances.
On 2nd Sept 2016, after reconsidering my decision, I wrote to you and advised that I decided to contact SA again. I contacted SA because, in my preliminary view, the refusal to communicate with you should not extend to dealing with your funding applications. I received SA’s response on 26 Oct 2016. Having considered their response, I am writing to advise you that I have decided to finalise the investigation.
SA’s response indicated that should you be successful in your application for funding, SA staff would be required to meet with you on multiple occasions in order to engage in close analysis of the script, feedback, and coaching. SA believes that, given the frequent unreasonably behaviour you displayed over the past six years in contacting SA, it is not appropriate to require its staff to deal with your funding application.
SA, like all government agencies, has a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for its staff. If customers behave in a manner that compromises this obligation, then it may be reasonable to restrict the way it will do business with those customers.
I acknowledge this means SA will not assess any funding applications from you until May 2018 when it reviews the arrangement. However, it is apparent to me that SA has made this decision by considering the dual obligations of workplace health and safety and service delivery.
For the above reasons, I have decided to finalise my investigation.
I accept you may be satisfied by my decision. It is open for you to request a review of my decision, and the process for doing so is available on our website.
Although I know it will be an exercise in futility and lead to more of the same nonsense, I will go through the motions of having the Ombudsman’s decision reviewed. My response to Kent:
Investigation Officer; Operations
14th Dec. 2016
In response to your letter of 2nd Dec 2016. You have finally completed your 7 month ‘investigation’ of Screen Australia’s 3rd bi-annual banning of me!
The good news is that the offense that led to my now 56 month long ban (but which, in reality, is, as you know, a lifetime ban) has been downgraded from ‘intimidation’ and ‘placing at risk’ to the far less serious charge of being ‘unreasonable’.
This is good news, a step in the right direction. However, the question must be asked:
Is being ‘unreasonable’ an offense so heinous that Screen Australia had no choice, in May 2012, but to terminate the career of an Australian filmmaker?
And an obvious question arises:
“What unreasonable behaviour is Screen Australia referring to?
Earlier in your letter you make your investigative modus operandi clear:
“I requested SA to provide the basis for its decision, including copies of correspondence you sent to SA from May 2014 to May 2016. On 29th August…”
Screen Australia obliged. You were provided with ‘copies of correspondence’. Your response:
“…having considered the information provided by SA, I notified you of my decision to finalize the investigation…”
What information (found in ‘copies of correspondence’) did Screen Australia provide you with that gave you confidence to finalize your investigation? Is this the same ‘information’ I have been asking Screen Australia for this past 56 months – evidence of my having intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff?
Oops! Sorry, I mean evidence of my having been so ‘unreasonable’ as to deserve a lifetime Screen Australia ban? (Does the Office of the Ombudsman really believe that there is some equivalence between ‘intimidation’ and being ‘unreasonable’!?)
Given that Screen Australia refuses to provide me with evidence of my ‘unreasonableness’, that the Australian Government Solicitor refuses to provide me with it, that both the Minister for the Arts and the Australian Director’s Guild refuse to request of Screen Australia that such evidence be made public, perhaps you’d like to share with me just what this evidence comprises?
Must be pretty bad, I guess! I mean, you don’t ban someone for common and garden ‘unreasonableness’, do you? You have to be seriously ‘unreasonable’ to warrant a ban, right?
Does my propensity for ‘unreasonableness’ lead me, on even one occasion, in my correspondence, to swearing, using abusive or threatening language?
The answer, as you know, is ‘no’. (Feel free to correct me if I am lying here!)
Is there any one instance in which a reasonable person (even an unreasonable one!) might form the impression that I was intimidating the recipient of my correspondence?
The answer, as you know, is ‘no’. (Or do you believe it to be ‘yes’, Kent?)
Is there any one instance to be found in my correspondence in which my choice of words could be construed as placing the reader at risk?
The answer again is, as you know, ‘no’.
If you believe that the answer to any or all these questions is ‘yes’ please provide me (and readers of my blog) with evidence that will prove me to be a liar.
“If I am guilty I will pay”, sings Bob Marley, whilst declaring that he did not shoot the Sheriff. If I am guilty of intimidation or placing at risk members of SA staff I should ‘pay’. I deserve to suffer reputational damage if I am guilty as charged and for lying about being innocent even of the allegation that I am ‘unreasonable’.
Am I a hypocrite, Kent, or telling the truth? You have the evidence in front of you in the form of my correspondence. Share it with me. Share it with fellow filmmakers (many of them friends of decades standing) who at present believe that I have intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff.
Did it not occur to you, in the name of natural justice, when you had documented evidence of my ‘unreasonableness’ in front of you, to ask me a question along these lines:
“Screen Australia considers the following statements of yours, to be found in your correspondence, to be unreasonable enough to warrant a lifetime ban; would you care to respond this this assertion?”
No, you decided that I had no right to be appraised of the evidence of my ‘unreasonableness’ or given an opportunity to respond:
“…because in my view, SA’s decision not to communicate with you was reasonable and open to it under the circumstances...”
At the risk of belabouring the point, what was it in my correspondence that you feel constitutes evidence of my ‘unreasonableness’? Or are you, as is the case with the Australian Government Solicitor, under no obligation to share with me the evidence upon which you have based your decision that I am, indeed, guilty of ‘unreasonableness’?
“On 2nd Sept 2016, after reconsidering my decision, I wrote to you and advised that I decided to contact SA again. I contacted SA because, in my preliminary view, the refusal to communicate with you should not extend to dealing with your funding applications. I received SA’s response on 26 Oct 2016.
Did it not occur to you on 26th Oct, prior to providing Screen Australia’s ban with the stamp of your approval, to provide me with the reasoning Screen Australia presented you with vis a via refusing funding applications from me? So that I could respond as I saw fit? I would have thought that natural justice demand that I be appraised of the evidence and given an opportunity to present a defence on my own behalf.
No, this is not how you conduct an ‘investigation!
“Having considered their response, I am writing to advise you that I have decided to finalise the investigation.”
In a process akin to the workings of Star Chambers of centuries gone by you decided, acting as both judge and jury, without the defendant being given an opportunity to peruse the evidence or present a defence, that the offense (“Mr Ricketson is charged with being ‘unreasonable’”) was proven and that the appropriate punishment is the termination of his career as an Australian filmmaker? And yes, Kent, you do know, because it has been explained to you many times, that a Screen Australia ban is essentially the kiss of death for any filmmaker in this country.
Of Screen Australia’s reasoning for the May 2016 ban placed on me, you write:
“SA’s response indicated that should you be successful in your application for funding, SA staff would be required to meet with you on multiple occasions in order to engage in close analysis of the script, feedback, and coaching. SA believes that, given the frequent unreasonable behaviour you displayed over the past six years in contacting SA, it is not appropriate to require its staff to deal with your funding application.”
There is that word again, ‘unreasonable’. Not as damning as ‘intimidating’ but what, precisely, is ‘unreasonable’ in my correspondence?
Let’s place my alleged ‘unreasonableness’ in context.
I have been dealing with film funding bodies since I made my first film in 1972. I have not only been an applicant but was, for ten years, sitting on the other side of the desk assessing scripts, documentary and drama projects for the Australian Film Commission – now entitled Screen Australia. Never once in the past 43 years have I intimidated or placed at risk a member of any funding body’s staff or, when on the other side of the desk, intimidated or placed at risk an applicant. You know this to be so. So do members of Screen Australia’s senior management and members of the SA board. So does the Australian Director’s Guild.
No, my ‘unreasonableness’ has manifested itself in challenging those in authority (within Screen Australia and elsewhere) who abuse the power that has been vested in them; those who do not adhere to the precepts of transparency and accountability in their dealings with members of the public.
We are living in a post-factual world, however, and the truth, facts, evidence are as irrelevant to the Office of the Ombudsman as they are to Screen Australia. What you have written here, acting as Screen Australia’s echo chamber and apologist is the crudest form of ‘dog whistling’. The subtext is clear:
“Screen Australia staff would be ‘at risk’ if they were to be in the same room as Mr Ricketson.”
This is nonsense. It is absurd. It is very hurtful. It is defamatory. And you have no evidence at all, and nor does Screen Australia, that I would pose any risk at all to anyone engaged in a conversation with me about a film project. That you accept this proposition, without question, speaks volumes of your lack of competence as an ‘investigator’. Where is the evidence in support of this dog-whistle proposition? There is none. And you know it.
“SA, like all government agencies, has a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for its staff. If customers behave in a manner that compromises this obligation, then it may be reasonable to restrict the way it will do business with those customers.”
More dog whistling.
The reason why you, why the Ombudsman’s office generally, why senior SA management and the SA board do not wish to present evidence of my alleged offenses (be they intimidation or being ‘unreasonable’) is that there is no evidence. If this were to became public knowledge you would all (how can I express this in a ‘reasonable’ fashion?) have a great deal of egg on your faces for having ‘convicted’ me not on the basis of evidence but on the basis of Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron’s vindictive desire to silence a critic; to prevent a filmmaker from ‘unreasonably’ asking them to be honest, transparent and accountable in their dealings with him; in their dealings with the film industry at large.
Was Fiona Cameron’s decision to call the police and have me arrested for doing nothing more than sit in the Screen Australia foyer waiting to be provided with evidence of my ‘unreasonableness’ a ‘reasonable’ response? Or do you think it could be fairly characterised as ‘intimidating’? And what about Fiona Cameron’s second call to the police to have me arrested for merely sitting in the Screen Australia foyer during business hours? Reasonable? Intimidation?
I should add that on this second occasion my arrest (and subsequent jailing for the weekend) took place with the blessing of the Screen Australia board – meeting in a room just 20 feet away.
Having a filmmaker arrested and jailed for a weekend is not ‘unreasonable’. It is intimidation, pure and simple. You blithely skate over these arrests and my jailing; just as you blithely skate over Screen Australia banning me from making Freedom of Information requests relevant to my assertion that I have never been (to use the Screen Australia euphemism) ‘unreasonable’. If you had been employed as a spin doctor by Screen Australia,Kent, you could not have done a better job than your letter of 2nd Dec. (pasted below in its entirety) in using verbal sleight of hand to provide Screen Australia’s ban on me with the imprimatur of the Ombudsman’s approval.
In a world in which the Office of the Ombudsman was actually interested in facts, evidence, truth, in a world in which the Office of the Ombudsman operated in accordance with the principles of natural justice, you would be fired for the sheer incompetence you have demonstrated this past six months in dealing with this matter.
Yes, I want your decision ‘reviewed’ – by someone within your office who does not see their job as being an apologist for Screen Australia; who will present me with evidence of the ‘unreasonableness’ that has led to these ongoing bans.
cc Mr Colin Neave, Commonwealth Ombudsman
Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Graeme Mason, CE, Screen Australia
Fiona Cameron, COO, Screen Australia
Members of the Screen Australia board
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)
Members of the Australian Director’s Guild board