Monday, April 30, 2012
1st May 2012
Dear Prime Minister
It is now nine weeks since I commenced a letter to you with this question:
Is it appropriate that complaints made about the Chief Operating Officer of a federal government body that invests around $60 million a year in Australian film and television are investigated by the Chief Operating Officer herself?
I have not yet received from your office acknowledgment of receipt of this letter, or of any of the other letters I have subsequently sent to you; letters sent to you only because it is a waste of time and energy writing to the Hon Simon Crean and expecting to get a response from his office from anyone other than a spin doctor.
Three months ago I sent a letter to Caroline Fulton - Acting Assistant Secretary, Creative Industries and Sector Development, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It included the following:
“I note the following in the Screen Australia Code of Conduct:
(11) An APS employee must at all times behave in a way that upholds the APS Values and the integrity and good reputation of the APS.
I cannot put it any more bluntly: Fiona Cameron is a liar. Or, in the parlance of the Code, Ms Cameron is not upholding the values and integrity and good reputation of the APS. And, in allowing her to do so, both Ruth Harley and the Board are implicated in this breach. Is this a matter of concern for Mr Crean? Clearly, the answer is ‘no’.
Let’s just presume, for argument’s sake, that lying is not a hanging offence; that Fiona Cameron playing fast and loose with the truth is not really of great consequence. I actually think it is but then maybe I’m just old-fashioned in this respect. After all we live in a world now in which lies are referred to as spin and in which people such as yourself are employed to lie on behalf of the Minister who employs you. Yes, I can understand, Caroline, that you will take offence to this but in my book (old fashioned as I am) there are sins of commission and sins of omission. Lying is not simply a matter of telling an untruth. It is also failing to acknowledge an untruth – even when it is staring you straight in the face. This is the case with Fiona Cameron’s lies. If there is any vestige of concern for facts, honesty, for transparency and accountability, could someone in Mr Crean’s office please provide me with spin-free answers to two questions:
(1) “Is the Minister, satisfied, on the basis of the facts, that Ms Cameron has been truthful in her correspondence with me?” All that is required in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
(2) “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron, directed to Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board are referred back to Fiona Cameron to deal with?” Or, to put it another way: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron are investigated by Fiona Cameron?” This is not the first time I have asked this question. On 16th Sept last year I wrote the following to Mr Crean:
Screen Australia has no functioning complaints system. All complaints about any matter wind up on the desk of Chief Operating Officer Ms Cameron’s – even complaints about herself. How is it possible that complaints made about Ms Cameron inability to abide by Screen Australia’s guidelines or speak the truth are adjudicated by Ms Cameron? This is symptomatic of Screen Australia’s lack of transparency and accountability in its dealings with the film industry. To be more specific:
On 8th Sept, in a letter to CEO Ruth Harley I registered a complaint about Ms Cameron’s behaviour. The following will give some idea of the nature of my complaint:
“…questions can legitimately be asked about Fiona’s own commitment to Screen Australia guidelines. Isn’t her refusal to respond to letters a breach of SA guidelines; a breach of SA’s supposed (and oft declared) commitment to transparency and accountability? Isn’t Fiona’s tendency (of which there is ample evidence) to play fast and loose with the truth a breach of Screen Australia guidelines? Isn’t Fiona’s placing on file statements about correspondence she claims I have written to SA (but have not) a breach SA guidelines?”
I did not receive a reply from Ms Harley. Nor did I receive a reply to my follow up letters of 12th and 13th Sept. It is not Ms Harley’s style to respond to letters; to answer questions. I did, however, get the following from Ms Cameron in an email.
“…please do not continue to waste my time. Neither myself or any other Screen Australia representative will enter into any further correspondence regarding these matters.”
This is Ms Cameron’s response, on Ms Harley’s behalf, to my complaint about Ms Cameron! What kind of a complaints process is this where the person being complained about can fail to deal with a complaint about herself by simply refusing to correspond any further! This is Franz Kafka territory! Or is it Alice in Wonderland? Monty Python!?
Perhaps, Caroline, you can provide me with a spin-free answer to my question: “Is it appropriate that complaints about Fiona Cameron be adjudicated by Fiona Cameron?” The answer, of course, is no, though I imagine that a good spin doctor can come up with a semi-plausible reason why it is not inappropriate for Fiona to be investigating complaints about herself.
If senior management and the Board at Screen Australia have no interest in the facts and no concern that Fiona Cameron is (at least in her dealings with me) a liar, and if the Minister for the Arts is not concerned either, what happens if there is a major complaint about Screen Australia that relies, for its appropriate resolution, on Fiona Cameron’s honesty? My own complaint is (to all by myself) a minor one – one filmmaker treated shoddily by Screen Australia staff for having the temerity to insist on its behaving in a transparent and accountable manner. The problem for the industry, for the Australian tax-payers who fund it, is that there is no mechanism in place within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to deal with any serious breach of the APS Code of Conduct on the part of Fiona Cameron. Surely there should be in place some mechanism whereby lies such as Fiona Cameron tells (and to which Ruth Harley and the Screen Australia Board turn a bind eye) can be dealt with? In the SA autocracy, as it is currently structured, it would be all too easy for members of senior management and the Board to behave in a manner that abrogates the Public Service Code of Conduct in major and serious ways without there being any possibility of redress. Rumours abound as it is of such serious breaches but the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet does not have in place the mechanisms whereby such breaches can be dealt with impartially. Perhaps the rumours are just that. Scuttlebutt. The problem is that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet not only do not have any mechanisms in place to investigate such breaches. Worse, it seems not to have any interest in doing so.
On 19th Nov I wrote the following to Mr Crean:
“I have written to you several times, Mr Crean, to complain of the lack of transparency and accountability within Screen Australia. The lack of it, apparent to all of us who work within the industry and to anyone who bothered to look at the facts, makes a mockery of the Labor government’s supposed commitment to transparency and accountability.”
I imagine that this letter will be responded to (if at all) with yet more spin. However, I would love to be surprised and to have my complaints deal with impartially by someone within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who lacks skills in the fields of spin but who has a commitment to making judgements based on facts.
In the interests of transparency I am copying this to all involved. If they wish to challenge the factual basis of anything I write here or have written previously, I hope they will. I doubt that they will, however, as what I write is based on facts – as anyone who bothered to look at the facts would realize.
If I do not get a satisfactory response from Mr Crean, I will address my next letter to the Prime Minister.
Ms Fulton did not bother to even acknowledge receipt of this letter. Three months down the line I know now that addressing a letter to your office is as much a waste of time as writing to Mr Crean. Your office, along with Mr Crean’s, the Board of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron have, it seems, collectively decided (having tried but failed to get any traction with the threatening-to-sue-for-defamation option) to ignore both my correspondence and the fact that I am publishing it on the internet. This seems to be the Gillard way – until, that is, a problem blows up in your face and you have to belatedly, retrospectively, draw a line in the sand and send someone to the sin bin for having crossed it - to save face!
Monday, April 23, 2012
Yet another attempt to get someone within the Screen Australia hierarchy to pay appropriate attention to a complaint made 17 months ago - this time to a member of the Screen Australia Board:
16th April 2012
Dear (Board Member)
A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from Ruth Harley that is a barely veiled threat to sue me for defamation. Copy enclosed. The issue, in a nutshell: a series of Screen Australia common and garden cockups which, rather than admitting to and rectifying, SA tried to make me responsible for – despite all the evidence pointing to Screen Australia as the perpetrator. The straw that broke the camel’s back was Fiona Cameron writing me a letter, in Nov. 2010, in which she claimed that I had placed on record, in correspondence with Screen Australia, statements suggestive of both stupidity and corrupt intentions on my part. When I asked Fiona to produce the correspondence (which I claimed did not exist) she refused to do so. When I asked Ruth Harley and Glen Boreham to ask Fiona to produce the correspondence or apologize, they ignored me. When I wrote to Simon Crean he got a spin doctor to write me a nonsense letter of the kind that spin doctors specialize in.
Over a period of 16 months Fiona (with Ruth and Glen Boreham’s blessing) has not produced the ‘smoking gun’ – the correspondence upon which her support from Ross Mathews and Claire Jager rests. She can’t produce it because it doesn’t exist. An apology is in order – not a threat to sue me for pursuing the (admittedly) drastic option of publishing my correspondence with Ruth, Prime Minister Gillard and others on the internet. That I should have to go to such lengths is, of course, absurd. However, given that Screen Australia has no functioning complaints process (which should be of concern to the Board), I have been left with little choice if I am to achieve a just outcome to this dispute.
If you have any influence at all, can you please ask Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron to either produce the correspondence or apologize and set the record straight so that the matter can be put to rest. It is a waste of the time, energy and resources of so many people, including my own and the quicker it is brought to its natural conclusion the better.
The dispute, running 16 months now, would never have been necessary if the cockup was acknowledged as such when it occurred and rectified immediately. This was the option open to Ross Mathews. He chose not to take it. It was the option open to Fiona Cameron. She chose not to take it. Similarly with Ruth Harley and Glen Boreham. As a matter of principle, it seems, the entire Screen Australia hierarchy protects the cockups of those further down the bureaucratic chain and hopes that filmmakers with genuine grievances will give up in frustration if they are ignored and lied to often enough.
When I get an apology, I will accept it graciously – as long as the Screen Australia files are corrected to reflect the facts and not the spin that has been perpetrated in this dispute.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
316 Whale Beach Road
Acting Assistant Secretary
Creative Industries and Sector Development
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Office for the Arts
GPO Box 6500
ACT 2600 10th April 2012
My latest letter to the Prime Minister (hard copy enclosed) speaks for itself. I have also published this, along with other relevant correspondence, on the internet:
It is, of course, absurd that I should have to force Screen Australia’s hand as I am (sue me or apologize) but given that Mr Crean and yourself are not prepared to insist that Screen Australia abide by its own guidelines and behave in a transparent and accountable way, I have been left with little choice – unless, that is, I simply accept that lies can be placed on (and remain on) file that are damaging to my professional reputation. I, like all filmmakers, am dependent in all sorts of ways on Screen Australia and for my professional life to be subject to the whims of Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron is not a situation I am prepared to endure without a fight.
Ruth Harley must now either sue me or apologize on behalf of Screen Australia. As will be apparent to you by now, I am not going to stop until I either get the record set straight and an apology or am dragged into the Supreme Court by Screen Australia. Even at this late date you could ask of Ruth Harley the questions I have outlined in my letter of today to the Prime Minister. Ms Harley’s response will be published in an uncensored state, even if it makes me look like a fool – as would be the case if Fiona Cameron were to produce the correspondence I claim does not exist.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Dear Prime Minister
Further to my letter of 16th March.
In Nov. 2009, in relation to education reform, you said, "Today I want to talk about our drive to create a new era of transparency.” When asked if you hoped the new My School website would pressure some institutions into lifting their standards, you replied:
“Transparency does place pressure on people. Pressure to improve, that's a good kind of pressure.”
Why does this same spirit of transparency not apply to the administration of the Hon Simon Crean’s Ministry for the Arts? Why doesn’t Mr Crean insist upon transparency and accountability from the CEO of Screen Australia, Ruth Harley, from the Chair of the SA Board, Glen Boreham? And from the Chief Operating Officer, Fiona Cameron? If this lack of concern for the precepts of transparency and accountability rife in other federal government agencies you have a huge problem on your hands and one that can only be solved if there is someone within the bureaucratic hierarchy prepared to say, “No, I don’t want the spin answer. I want the answer based on facts. And I want it now!” That there is no-one within the Screen Australia hierarchy – up to and including Simon Crean – prepared to step outside the spin cycle is a recipe for disaster. Here’s how it could work. And fast:
Memo to Simon Crean: “Please find out if it is Mr Ricketson or Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron who are talking nonsense? Is it true that complaints about Fiona Cameron are given to Fiona Cameron to address?”
Memo from Crean to Caroline Fulton: “Find out who is lying here and if Fiona Cameron investigates complaints made about herself. Answer on desk by end of week.”
Memo from Caroline Fulton to Ruth Harley: “Please tell me (a) Does the correspondence that Fiona Cameron refers to in her letter of 12th Nov 2010 to Mr Ricketson exist? If so, could you please forward me copies? If the correspondence does not exist could you please explain why you have taken no action to address Mr Ricketson’s concerns in the 16 months that he has been appealing to you to do so? (b) Is it true that Ross Mathews and Clair Jager, in assessing Mr Ricketson’s CHANTI’S WORLD documentary application, did not view the most significant part of his proposal – the audio visual ‘promo’? (c) Is it true, when Mr Ricketson has lodged with yourself and Chair, Glen Boreham, complaints about Fiona Cameron, that you have handed these to Fiona Cameron to deal with? (d) Is it true that Ms Coleman has informed Mr Ricketson that he may never again present his project, CHANTI’S WORLD, to Screen Australia for funding consideration? If so, could you please explain why. I would appreciate answers within the next 48 hours?
A mini-investigation such as this could have been completed in a couple of days at any point in the last 12 months – thus saving a lot of people (including myself) a lot of time and trouble and making it unnecessary for me to resort to the internet as a means of forcing Screen Australia to either sue me or apologize for its cockup and set the record straight. It could be completed by the end of this week if Screen Australia spin doctors and lawyers (along with those in your own and Mr Crean’s offices) are not involved.
If Treasurer Wayne Swan is serious about meeting his budget surplus goals and looking for savings in next months budget, my suggestion would be to fire the spin doctors who have be come a plague on the body politic and whose lies make it possible for bodies such as Screen Australia to ignore the precepts of accountability and transparency that they all crow about on their websites in various mission statements. I suspect that both your own and the governments poll ratings would leap by a few points if the front page news was GILLARD AND SWAN TO CULL 5000 SPIN DOCTORS.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
5th April 2012
When I saw an email from you in my INBOX I thought: At last this will be Ruth saying something along the lines of “James, upon reviewing the matter I have come to the conclusion that the correspondence that Fiona Cameron refers to in her letter of 12th Nov 2010 does not exist, as you have been insisting this past 16 months. On speaking with Claire Jager, Ross Mathews and Elizabeth Crosby it is now clear to me that Ross and Claire did not view the promo that was the centrepiece of your original CHANTI’S WORLD application, as you have been insisting this last 16 months. And it is also clear to me, upon speaking with Ross and Liz, that Ross did say that your second CHANTI’S WORLD application was ‘appropriate’ – despite Julia Overton’s later assessment that it was not appropriate. For these errors on Screen Australia’s part please accept my heartfelt apology…” To which I would have replied, “Apology accepted.”
Instead of a response based on facts, based on truth, based on fairness, you have chosen, Ruth, to add yet another layer of spin to this ongoing dispute. You write, “…we have repeatedly, over many months, endeavoured to answer those concerns.” This is a lie. You have not endeavoured to answer any of my concerns. You have studiously avoided answering either my concerns or my questions and, when I have complained to you about Fiona’s playing fast and loose with the truth, you have passed my complaint on to Fiona to deal with it! And Fiona’s way of dealing with any complaint, of course (including those about herself) is “I refuse to correspond any further with you on this matter.” This is the standard of transparency and accountability you find acceptable amongst your staff! The mind boggles. It is because you have ignored my concerns, failed to answer my questions, that I have kept writing and found myself with no choice but to write to the Prime Minister. If you believe that you have answered my concerns, please direct me to the correspondence in which this has occurred. If you cannot do so, please do not place any more such nonsense on file.
You refer to “damaging allegations which I believe to be totally untrue.” Which allegations are you referring to? The allegation that I did not write the correspondence that Fiona refers to? The allegation that Ross and Claire did not view my promo? The allegation that Ross Mathews told me, in front of Liz Crosby and Julia Overton that my 2nd application with CHANTI’S WORLD was ‘appropriate’? If these ‘allegations’ are untrue, why has Fiona not produced the correspondence? Why have Ross, Claire and Liz not refuted my version of events? I have asked so many times and, as you know full well, if the three of them were to present an alternative version of what occurred it would be my word against theirs. Your use of the phrase “which I believe to be untrue” is disingenuous to say the least. By now, Ruth, you should know that my ‘allegations’ are either true or untrue – not that you ‘believe’ them to be untrue. Fiona can either produce the correspondence she refers to or she can’t. “which I believe to be untrue” are the kind of weasel words that let you off the hook further down the track if it is proven (as it shall be) that my ‘allegations’ are true.
Not only is your letter primarily spin it is also a thinly veiled threat. If I continue to demand that Screen Australia adhere to the precepts of transparency and accountability, abide by its own guidelines and deal with my complaints appropriately, I can expect to hear from your legal department. This strikes me as an ambit claim – the hope being on your part that the threat of legal action will prevent me, 16 months down the track, from wanting the record set straight. Such threats, such bullying, won’t have the desired effect. And the threat of legal action is foolish anyway as a court case would necessitate that Screen Australia produce the correspondence that Fiona Cameron refers to; that Claire, Ross and Liz answer the very questions I have been asking for 16 months. If Screen Australia really wishes to go down this route, so be it. A dreadful waste of Screen Australia’s resources I would have thought when answers to questions (my ‘serious allegations’) and an apology would suffice. And would have sufficed 16 months ago if my complaint had been dealt with appropriately.
Produce the correspondence that Fiona refers to (as I have been requesting for 16 months) and I will have a lot of egg on my face and will not have much of a leg to stand on in court. By not producing the correspondence (which you know not to exist) you and Glen Boreham (who also knows that it does not exist) have given your tacit approval to Fiona to place whatever she wishes on file – with no reference to the facts or truth. As I have stated (ad nauseum) in this instance it is just one filmmaker who is affected and of no great consequence in the grand scheme of things. However, if Screen Australia’s Chief Operating officer plays fast and loose with the truth and her behaviour is countenanced by the CEO and Chair of the Board, this is a matter of major concern for the whole industry. It should be a matter of major concern to the Minister, Simon Crean, but it is not. Perhaps my complaint has not made it to Mr Crean’s desk. It certainly should not have but someone within the Minister’s office, other than a spin doctor, should long ago have taken note of the implications of my complaint (most particularly Fiona investigating herself) and take some action.
I have published this on the internet because you have left me no choice if I am to achieve any semblance of justice here. If you are absolutely determined not to deal with my original complaint in an appropriate manner, if you are determined to add to the nonsense that is already on file, I will continue to publish updates of this dispute on the internet and allow my fellow filmmakers to make up their own minds as to whether or not my publishing is appropriate or inappropriate. Answer my questions, address my complaints and apologize and I will remove my correspondence from the internet immediately. Alternatively, produce the correspondence Fiona refers to and assure me, in writing, that Ross and Claire DID view my promo and that Ross did NOT say that my second application was ‘appropriate’.
3rd April 2012
Dear Mr Ricketson
It has come to my attention that quite apart from the substantial volume of correspondence you have sent to this organization containing serious accusations against members of our staff, you have seen fit to publish similarly damaging material to various other people, including the Prime Minister and the world at large through the internet.
We are an organization with limited resources serving the Australian film community in good faith. I appreciate that you have had some concerns about our decision making process and we have repeatedly, over many months, endeavoured to answer those concerns. We will not engage in any further correspondence about those issues.
Your decision to publish your most recent correspondence on the internet was, seemingly, calculated to create the maximum potential for personal distress and reputational damage. You may wish to seek legal advice as to the consequences of such conduct, and in particular, the consequences of making public and damaging allegations which I believe to be totally untrue. In the interests of all concerned, I ask that you cease that conduct forthwith.
Chief Executive Officer