Thursday, December 1, 2016

Yet another let to Commonwealth Ombudsman, Mr Colin Neave

Over the past six years I have asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman (countless times!) a simple question:

“Please ask Screen Australia to provide evidence of allegations senior members of staff, the Chief Executive and the Screen Australia board have made regarding myself?”

For six years the Commonwealth Ombudsman has refused to do so. The questions remain unanswered.

Mr Colin Neave
Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
ACT 2601

28th Nov 2018

Dear Mr Neave

Following on from my letter of 2nd Sept 2016, receipt of which has not been acknowledged by your office.

Please find attached two letters I have written to Screen Australia this month (9th and 17th Nov) relating to Chief Executive Graeme Mason’s refusal to allow me to make FOI requests. I have received acknowledgment from neither the SA board or from the FOI officer of receipt of these letters.

Is this a matter of concern to your Office as we approach the 6th anniversary of my original complaint to the Ombudsman about Screen Australia’s failure to adhere to FOI legislation?

How much longer does the office of the Ombudsman need to ask the most basic of questions: “Evidence please?”

My letter of 13th Dec 2010 to Elisa Harris is worth quoting at length as a reminder that 6 years ago (next month) a member of your office completed an investigation without bothering to ask any questions at all of those Screen Australia staff that were the subject of my complaint? It is noteworthy also that Screen Australia was already doing all that it could to thwart my attempts to make FOI applications.

Dear Elisa
I note that you have copied your 8th Dec letter to Nick Coyle, FOI officer at Screen Australia. I am not sure why you have done so but it may be of interest to you that I am still waiting to obtain from Nick, through FOI, answers to questions I asked of Julia Overton months ago and which she quite simply refused to answer. How can the Ombudsman’s office complete its investigation into my complaint when the answers to my FOI questions, pertinent to my complaint, have not yet been provided to me? One of my FOI requests relates to the notes Julia Overton took during our 25th our August meeting – the only contemporaneous written record of who said what in this meeting. The more important question arising from your letter of 8th Dec is: How can the Ombudsman’s office complete its investigation without asking the most important question of all and the one around which my complaint turns?
Did the conversation between myself, Ross Mathews and Julia Overton on 25th August occur as I have described it many times now. Or did it not? You observe, quite correctly, that “what was said at this meeting appears now to form the main issue of complaint.” Later in your letter you write, “Clearly Ms Cameron has reviewed what occurred at that meeting and is satisfied that no further action is required by the agency regarding this." If it is ‘clear’ that Fiona has ‘reviewed’ what occurred in the meeting, what did she discover? That I was telling the truth? That I have been lying? That Ross and Julia refuse to answer the question? Did Fiona look at Julia’s notes? If she did, and if Julia’s written account is different from my own, why has Fiona not availed herself of the opportunity to point this out to me? Did the Ombudsman’s office even put the question to Fiona: “What is your understanding of what was said in the meeting of 25th August.”
In the absence of a clear answer to this question (am I telling the truth or not) it would be a waste of my time in the writing and yours in the reading if I were to respond more fully to your  8th Dec. letter. Please, Elisa, obtain from Ross, Julia and Fiona an answer to this question and lets proceed from there. And you could ask Liz Crosby also. She was present at the end of the meeting of 25th August and will, I think, be familiar with the meeting’s outcome.
On 17th. Nov. I wrote the following to Zachary in your office: “Dear Zachary
I am in need of some advice...I do want to proceed with my complaint but I want to do so in the right way or, to put it another way, in a way that makes it simple for your office to deal with. In essence this is a very simple matter and I would like to keep it that way....Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated - by either email or on the phone.
cheers, James 0400959229
The ‘simple matter’ I was referring to was getting an answer to my one question – proving to be as difficult as getting blood from a stone!
I did not hear back from Zachary. This did not concern me since it has been made clear to me on a few occasions that the Ombudsman’s office has quite a backlog of complaints to investigate and that it could take months before my complaint was looked at. I certainly expected your office to get back to me in response to my 17th Nov email email when my complaint was being considered. This has not occurred. The investigation has been completed before all the evidence is in and, it seems, without the key question being asked.
Six years later the most important question of all still remains unasked by your office:
 “Please provide evidence that Mr Ricketson intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff prior to May 2012!”
Please excuse me if I repeat the question I asked in Dec 2010:
How can the Ombudsman’s office complete its investigation without asking the most important question of all and the one around which my complaint turns?
A few weeks later I wrote another letter to Elisa.
6th Jan 2011

Dear Elisa Harris

Following on from my letter of 5th Jan. and our telephone conversation yesterday.

Clearly you have no intention of asking of Ross Mathews, Julia Overton or Liz Crosby the most relevant question in this dispute – without an answer to which it is impossible to make a determination as to where the truth lies. I must say that I find this an extraordinary state of affairs!

Whilst it comes as no surprise to me that members of Screen Australia’s senior management should use spin and obfuscation to avoid answering a simple question, it does surprise me that the Ombudsman’s office should likewise resort to spin to avoid obtaining an answer to this question – as you did on the phone yesterday in declaring that it is up to the Ombudsman’s office to determine the manner in which it conducts its investigations and hence is under no obligation to ask this all important question. The logic of this, coming from a lawyer, escapes me. I would have thought that first and foremost the Ombudsman’s office’s job was to get to the truth or as close to the truth as it is possible to get – an objective that can only be achieved by asking the right questions and hoping to get honest answers. But I am repeating myself, to no end. You will not ask the question! C’est la vie!
The various gestures on the part on the office of the Ombudsman to go through the motions of ‘investigating’ this matter over the past 6 years have been characterised by a refusal to ask pertinent questions. Had these been asked in 2010, 18 months or so before the official ban was placed on me, this matter could have been resolved before the end of 2010. 
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that your office decided, in late 2010, that my complaint had no merit at all and that the best way of dealing with it was to simply not ask any questions at all that might lead your office to believe that my complaint did have merit.
Now, in Nov 2016, your office is so heavily invested in the proposition that Screen Australia’s ban was justified it cannot ask these questions (“Why the ban on FOI requests?” for instance) without tacitly admitting that your office has evinced a high level of incompetence in its handing of this matter.
I have written at some length about the impact of Screen Australia’s ban on my career as a filmmaker. Let me add a few words regarding the reputational damage I have suffered:
The Australian Director’s Guild (ADG), of which I was a founding member, represents the interests of film and TV directors. One of its many functions is to protect directors from the kind of bureaucratic bullying that I have been subjected to by Screen Australia since SA’s inception. Since May 2012, the month of my ban, I have been persona non grata with the ADG – which has not only refused to ask for evidence of the alleged offenses that led to my ban but has refused to even mention the ban in its newsletters.
Why is this?
There are two reasons:
(1) Your office has, since 2010, given its seal of approval to the ban placed on me – firstly the unofficial ban and then the official one. In relation to the official May 2102 ban Screen Australia has held up the Ombudsman’s  support for the ban as evidence that I am guilty as charged. (The Ombudsman’s declaration that the ban on me is justified is, incidentally, one of the reasons provided by Screen Australia for refusing FOI requests from me.)

And so it is that the Australian Director's Guild, believing that the Ombudsman has investigated this matter, arrived at the conclusion, quite understandably, that I did in fact intimidate, harass and place at risk members of SA staff. Why on earth would (or should) the ADG advocate on behalf of a director who intimidates and places at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff?

You may ask, “Why didn’t the ADG at least request of Screen Australia that it provide evidence, from my correspondence, that I intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of SA staff?” This brings me to:

(2) The Australian Director’s Guild receives funding from Screen Australia. It cannot afford to bite one of the few hands that feeds it.

The ADG is thus caught between a rock and a hard place. If it were to ask for evidence and find that there is none (and there isn’t) it would find itself in the awkward position of having to advocate on my behalf and go into battle with one of its major funders – Screen Australia. This the ADG cannot afford to do.
In its wisdom the ADG board has decided not to ask any questions of Screen Australia and not to respond in any way to my emails and letters. Having to choose between support for a fellow director and continued Screen Australia funding the ADG has chosen the latter. It is a question of survival for the ADG and I do not take this personally. This is the way the world works. Those who control the purse strings (in this case Screen Australia) control (or at least heavily influence) policy decisions – in this case the ADG’s decision to turn a blind eye to the plight of a fellow filmmaker.
On a personal level, however, my becoming persona non grata with the ADG is very painful. These are my peers, my fellow filmmakers. Some I have known for 40 years. I am now well into my sixties and what will probably be the last decade of my life as an Australian filmmaker is being clouded by the false accusations that have led to my being banned for 54 months now by Screen Australia. Your office, in refusing to conduct a proper investigation in 2010 and in refusing to ask the most basic of questions this past six years, has lent credibility to Screen Australia’s ban and thus been complicit in the reputational damage I have suffered.

Six years down the track, as Kent Purvis goes through the motions  of conducting yet another ‘investigation’ into yet another two year ban, imposed in May 2016, I fear that he is again refusing to ask for evidence of the offences that have led to my being banned for 54 weeks now. If this be the case any report that is written about this latest ban (6 months ago) will be worthless and I will need to expend a lot of money acquiring answers to my questions (evidence of my guilt) in the Supreme Court.
I would appreciate it, Mr Neave, if you did, just this once, at least acknowledge receipt of a letter from me.
best wishes
James Ricketson
cc         Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Members of the Screen Australia board
Australian Director’s Guild
Louise Vardanega
Graeme Mason

Fiona Cameron

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