Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Letter to Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting) re AGS' argument that I am not entitled to be appraised of the evidence presented to AGS that led to my being banned!
On 2nd June Iain Anderson, Deputy Secretary, Civil Law Division, explained to me why my request for evidence of my guilt, as presented by Ruth Harley to the Australian Government Solicitor in 2012, has been refused for the second time. Mr Anderson writes:
“Though you may have cogent reasons for requesting access to the documents the subject of your request, the documents remain outside the scope of the FOI Act, and therefore cannot be disclosed by means of a freedom of information request.
I am satisfied that any document in the possession of the department relating to the terms of your FOI request falls under this exemption and it therefore not subject to the FOI Act. Accordingly I refuse your request on the basis that the department does not hold any documents relevant to your request to which the FOI Act applies.”
It is something of an understatement on Mr Anderson’s part to state that I “may have cogent reasons for requesting access to documents…” I have been defamed by Ruth Harley, by Fiona Cameron and now by Graeme Mason’s lies. The ban placed on me as a direct consequence of the documents presented to Mr Govey in 2012 has rendered it impossible for me to make films in Australia this past four years. The Australian Government Solicitor essentially approved Screen Australia’s right to destroy the career as an Australian filmmaker.
The document that I seek access to is responsible not just for the destruction of my career but to a significant loss of reputation amongst professional colleagues who have no reason, other than my word, to believe that I am not guilty as charged. “Why,” they quite legitimately ask, “would the Australian Government Solicitor approve of such a ban if there were not cogent evidence that James has intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff.”
It is evidence of my guilt (or innocence) that Screen Australia has fought hard to suppress this past four years. Now, in June 2016, in your role as Australian Government Solicitor (acting), you are aiding and abetting in the suppression of this evidence. And for what reason? Simply because FOI legislation says you can?
It may not be your intention, but by using the letter of the FOI Act to conceal the truth, as you are, you are not just impeding a resolution to this dispute based on facts, on evidence; you are also providing much needed cover to Graeme Mason to continue with his disingenuous attempt to make it seem as though due process has been adhered to vis a vis my Freedom of Information requests for evidence of my guilt.
Last week I received the following email from, Graeme Mason:
Dear Mr Ricketson
Freedom of information requests
I refer to your recent emails and letters to Screen Australia dated 18 and 23 May 2016, with requests for access to information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).
You have asked for us to give you examples of your correspondence prior to 9 May 2012 in which you intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff.
This request covers the same information that you requested under the FOI Act on 18 June 2012. Screen Australia provided you with a response at that time, on 18 July 2012, enclosing the relevant information. I have enclosed a copy of that response with the enclosed information again for your reference (Attachment A).
You have requested evidence that Screen Australia has that you complained about Chanti’s World not being funded.
This request covers the same information that you requested under the FOI Act on 16 March 2012 and 9 August 2012. Screen Australia provided you with a response at that time, on 30 August 2012, enclosing the relevant information. I have enclosed a copy of the response with the enclosed information again for your reference (Attachment B).
These recent requests for information all relate to matters that have been comprehensively dealt with by Screen Australia and that the information has already been requested and provided to you on other occasions, other than information that is exempt from disclosure. Accordingly Screen Australia will not respond to repeated FOI requests that you may make in the future in relation to the same information.
The assertions Mr Mason is making here are just plain nonsense. And he knows it. I will address the contents of his letter separately when time prevails. (I currently have a filmic deadline to meet and time is precious!)
In the meantime, Ms Vardanega, you are in possession of the document Ruth Harley presented to the then Australian Government Solicitor, Mr Ian Govey in 2102. You will have read it. Your response to it as a lawyer (as I presume you to be) will be a variation of one of the following:
(1) On the basis of the evidence provided by Ruth Harley, Mr Govey’s providing Screen Australia with his approval of the two year banning of Mr Ricketson was an appropriate response to intimidating correspondence and to his placing at risk members of Screen Australia staff.
(2) Whilst Mr Govey’s approval of the initial two year ban on Mr Ricketson was appropriate, the extension of it to six years (and, in reality, in perpetuity) represents a more severe punishment than Mr Govey had in mind and is unfair.
(3) The evidence provided by Ruth Harley, upon which Mr Govey relied in giving the imprimatur of his approval to Screen Australia to ban Mr Ricketson, should have been presented to him prior to the ban being imposed. Mr Ricketson should have been given an opportunity to respond to the charges; to argue in defense of his innocence of the charges laid.
(4) There is little evidence that I can find either in Ruth Harley’s submission or in the voluminous correspondence supplied by Fiona Cameron (and now by Graeme Mason) that Mr Ricketson intimidated or placed at risk any member of staff at Screen Australia.
All of these responses have one thing in common – evidence. There is either evidence of my guilt or there is not. Which is it, Ms Vardanega? This is not a rhetorical question.
What reason do you have for withholding evidence of my guilt? Or my innocence? Yes, the letter of the FOI Act enables you to do so, but what is your actual reason for doing so? There are clearly no national security issues involved here. If Ruth Harley presented Mr Govey with a truthful account of my offences (and evidence to back up her allegations) the contents of her submission to him will make it abundantly clear that I deserved to be banned; that I have been lying this past four years of insisting that I was not guilty as charged.
Why on earth would Screen Australia wish to keep secret evidence of my guilt? There is no good or valid reason, and you know it. On the other hand, there is a very good reason why Screen Australia does not wish for the truth to come out. And you know this also. Screen Australia would look very foolish, to say the least, if it became public knowledge that Ruth Harley played fast and loose with the truth in her submission to the Australian Government Solicitor; that her allegations were demonstrably false.
Mr Govey would, similarly, look very foolish for providing Ruth Harley with his seal of approval in the absence of evidence that had been tested in any way or allegations that could have easily been proven to be false prior to May 2012 if evidence had played any role in this matter. And the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman would look similarly foolish for not even bothering to ask for evidence – despite my four years of multiple requests that it do so.
It may well be that this far down the track in what amounts to Kafkaesque farce the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Government Solicitor have as vested an interest as Screen Australia is guaranteeing that evidence of my guilt or innocence never sees the light of day. As will be apparent to you by now I have no intention, much as Graeme Mason might wish it, of letting this matter drop.
You are in a position, Ms Vardanega, to provide me with a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission, regardless of the fact that FOI legislation gives you the legal right to avoid doing so. Common sense, a desire to to see this matter resolved once and for all and legal precedent all suggest that the best (indeed the only) path for you to go down is to make Ruth Harley’s document available to me and others with an interest in this matter. I request that you do so or provide an explanation for not doing so.
Graeme Mason, CEO, Screen Australia
Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Kent Purvis, office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman
Kingston Anderson, Australian Director’s Guild
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Graeme Mason, Screen Australia's CEO, determined to withhold evidence Ruth Harley presented to Australian Government Solicitor of my guilt of offences warranting my being banned.
Investigation Officer; Operations
14th June 2016
Why has Screen Australia gone to so much trouble, for four years now, to keep secret the evidence upon which the ban on me was placed?
Is this question of any interest to the Office of the Ombudsman, in June 2016?
Ruth Harley’s ‘evidence’, sufficient for the Australian Government Solicitor (Mr Ian Govey) to provide his seal of approval to changing Screen Australia’s Terms of Trade to make the ban on me legal, is clearly the most important document of all in this matter.
Have you read this document, Kent? Has anyone in the Ombudsman’s office read this document during the past four years?
If the Ombudsman is aware of its contents, does s/he believe that it contains evidence sufficient to warrant the banning of an Australian filmmaker?
If the Ombudsman was aware of the contents of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Govey, did it ever occur to him to present me with the evidence and give me an opportunity to respond to it? Or did he find the ‘evidence’ of my guilt so overwhelming that he felt there to be no need to give me an opportunity to present a case in my own defence?
These are not rhetorical questions. I would like answers and do not see how this matter can be resolved in the absence of answers.
If the Office of the Ombudsman is, in June 2016, unaware of the contents of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Ian Govey, more questions arise:
Did your office, back in 2012, ask to be provided with a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission?
If not, why not?
Will you, in June 2016, request of Screen Australia that your office be provided with a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission?
If not, why not?
If no-one within the office of the Ombudsman has read Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Govey, how can you know if it is factually correct or a compilation of baseless allegations?
Can you not see, Kent, that common sense and natural justice demand that a person accused of a serious offence is entitled to be provided with evidence of his or her guilt; that this evidence must be tested either in court or by some independent party that has no no vested interest in the outcome of its investigations?
In my case I have neither been provided with evidence nor an opportunity to have this evidence tested by an impartial independent body such as the Office of the Ombudsman. This is wrong and your office, by refusing to take the most important evidence into account, relying only on Ruth Harley’s untested allegations, has effectively given Screen Australia, for four years now, its seal of approval; made it possible, in April 2016, for Graeme Mason to place the following statement on file.
“Your substantive complaints about Screen Australia’s decision not to fund your production Chanti’s World have been exhaustively addressed, including by external review and investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.”
This is a lie. Graeme Mason knows it to be a lie. He has placed it on file as though it were an accepted fact. It joins a growing list of lies about myself that have been placed on file at Screen Australia and which will become accepted wisdom, the agreed upon ‘facts’, if I cease to advocate on my own behalf.
I will not cease advocating my right to be appraised of the evidence against me.
I will ask again, Kent: As a result of the Ombudsman’s 2012 ‘investigation’ did the investigating officer come upon any evidence of my guilt? If so, why do you not simply outline it; provide me with a few examples? Or will your office fall back on its standard ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card:
“You have also been specifically informed that, given your insistent correspondence on this matter, this office may choose to file but not respond to further correspondence on this topic.”
This is the same response as I received from Screen Australia when, in my ‘insistent correspondence’ I requested evidence of the initial lies that set this dispute in motion. It could be paraphrased thus:
“As a result of your insistent correspondence on this matter, your repeated demands for evidence of your guilt, Screen Australia staff feel intimidated, harassed and that they have been placed at risk. As a result we have decided to ban you again. If you will simply stop asking for this evidence we might just stop banning you!”
By acting as though the original reason for the ban is no longer of any relevance your office is aiding and abetting Screen Australia in its determination to keep the evidence against me secret.
It was Fiona Cameron’s initial lie (that Graeme Mason is repeating here) that I objected to and that I wished to have corrected. It was the efforts I went to, in my correspondence, to have the record set straight that led to Ruth Harley’s lie that I had intimidated, harassed and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff with my correspondence. And now Screen Australia has banned me again for having spent the last two years advocating my right to be appraised of evidence in support of the ban on me. In the Orwellian world of Screen Australia advocacy is seen as harassment and thinly veiled threats are made that I may be sued for defamation.
Graeme Mason’s recently announced 2 year ban is his response to my agreeing to his own suggestion that I follow a particular procedure to acquire a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Ian Govey! Mr Mason’s response could be paraphrased thus:
“Here is the correct procedure for you to follow and, oh, by the way, we have decided to ban you for another 2 years anyway – regardless of the outcome of pursuit of this correct procedure.”
Does the Ombudsman accept this as a fair and appropriate response from Graeme Mason to my request to be provided with a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Govey? Will the office of the Ombudsman provide its seal of approval to each and every breach, on the part of Screen Australia, to my legal right to be appraised of the evidence against me and given an opportunity to present a defence?
Graeme Mason knows that there is no evidence to back up his April 2016 assertion that I complained about Screen Australia’s decision not to fund ‘Chanti’s World’. I made no such complaint. Mr Mason, as with Fiona Cameron before him, knows that he can place this lie on file secure in the knowledge that the Ombudsman’s office will not ask for any evidence of its veracity. He knows that you will say, “We have investigated this and do not intend to investigate it again,” knowing full well, that no evidence in support of the allegations made against me.
Given the lengths to which Screen Australia is going to keep Ruth Harley’s submission to the Australian Government Solicitor secret my guess is that its being made public would be Graeme Mason and the SA board’s worst nightmare.
We are now at a Groundhog Day moment; back precisely to where we were back in 2012.
Will you ask Mr Mason for evidence, in 2016, that I have defamed members of Screen Australia’s staff between 2014 and 2016? Will I be given an opportunity to respond to the evidence Mr Mason provides to you? Or will you, like your predecessors, use bureaucratic language to support Screen Australia’s right to ban me again and make it seem that an ‘investigation’ has taken place. If I am not to be appraised of the evidence against me in support of this latest ban, Kent, I would rather you did not conduct one and give the person sitting in Mr Mason’s seat in two years the opportunity to write:
“Your substantive complaints…have been exhaustively addressed, including by external review and investigation by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.”
As I have made clear on a number of occasion now, I am not seeking to have the Screen Australia ban on me lifted. It is much too late for that now. It was the intention of Ruth Harley, Fiona Cameron and the then Screen Australia board, in 2102, to make it close to impossible for me to make films in Australia. In this they have succeeded. Graeme Mason and the current board are now doing all they can to prevent me from acquiring evidence of my innocence which, I believe, will be found in Ruth Harley’s 2012 submission to Mr Ian Govey. Or, to put it another way, I believe that Ruth Harley’s submission will contain within it allegations that are so demonstrably false that it will be clear to all and sundry that the original ban on me had nothing to do with the allegations made but to do with silencing a critic and punishing, in the most extreme manner, a filmmaker who had the temerity to challenge lies placed on file by senior members of Screen Australia staff. Having my name cleared of the false allegations made against by Fiona Cameron, Ruth Harley and now Graeme Mason is my primary objective.
I have no faith, based on my last four years of experience, in the office of the Ombudsman’s capacity (or even the will) to get to the truth of the matter by insisting that allegations be both presented to the accused (me) and tested independently. As I have made clear from the outset, on so many occasions, if Screen Australia can supply me with one paragraph, one sentence or even one word in support of the allegations I will accept my ban willingly. Screen Australia will not do so because there is no evidence.
Past experience suggests that you will merely go through the motions of investigating this latest ban. I would love to be proven wrong; to find that it is not the intention of the office of the Ombudsman to provide Screen Australia, as happened back in 2012, with its tacit approval of the ban on me in the absence of evidence.
Once all the options open to me to acquire evidence of my guilt have been exhausted (including the investigation you may or may not conduct) have been exhausted I will commence legal proceedings against Screen Australia to acquire a copy of Ruth Harley’s submission to Mr Ian Govey – the first step in having my name cleared.
I am publishing all of this correspondence on my blog for a few reasons.
I believe in total transparency and accountability. If I have told any lies this past four years I cannot hide the fact. The evidence that I am a liar will be there for anyone who is interested to find and point out to me.
If Screen Australia tries to re-write history, as Graeme Mason has done in his most recent correspondence, it is more difficult for the organization to do so when all the correspondence is available for anyone who wishes to to look at. Including yourself.
The ban on me has not only taken an enormous toll on me professionally. It has also taken a toll on me personally.
Terrified as it is of offending or alienating Screen Australia, the Australian Director’s Guild (of which I was a founding member) will not even report in its newsletter that I have been banned again. I have become persona non grata not just with the ADG but with friends of 40 years standing as a result of this ban who believe that where there is smoke there must be fire; that I did, indeed ‘place at risk’ members of Screen Australia’s staff.
I remain hopeful, as this matter drags on inevitably to the Supreme Court, that my professional colleagues and friends will look at the facts; that they will see that I have asked on countless occasions to be provided with evidence of my guilt; that the hand that feeds the ADG (Screen Australia) deserves, in this instance, to be bitten; that there are times when it is important to fight against the kind of bureaucratic bullying that has been on display for four years now in the ban on me.
Evidence please, Kent!
cc Graeme Mason Chief Executive, Screen Australia
Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)
Australian Director’s Guild.