Sunday, August 28, 2016

What role can, or should, the Ombudsman play in dispoute resolution?

Mr Colin Neave AM
Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
ACT 2601                                                                                          

24th August 2016

Dear Mr Neave

On the website for the Commonwealth Ombudsman the following words are to be found:

“Our aim is to resolve complaints impartially, informally and as quickly as reasonably practicable…we endeavor to resolve disputes through consultation and negotiation…”

Close to 6 years after I made my original complaint to Elisa Harris (Dec 2010) and 50 months after I made a formal complaint about being banned by Screen Australia, I am no closer to being provided with evidence that I intimidated or placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff.

Kent Purvis has been given the task of determining whether or not the May 2016 ban on me (the 3rd such two year ban) can be justified on the basis of actions on my behalf between May 2014 and 2016. It would seem that he must do so without any reference to the circumstances surrounding the first (10th May 2012) ban on me!

My earlier correspondence with your office, dating back to 2010, has by now, I imagine, been lost in the mists of time. It is worth looking at again, however, since right at the outset  I was prepared to accept the legitimacy of ban if any evidence could be provided in support of the truth of the allegations made against me.

Ms Alison Larkins
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442, Canberra                                                                                   

25th  May 2012

Dear Ms Larkins
                                                            re 2010-118398

If I were obliged to reduce my request for assistance from the office of the Ombudsman to one simple question it would be: Please ask Ruth Harley to quote one sentence, one paragraph, one email, one letter to a member of her staff that contains anything that could be construed, by even the most sensitive or Screen Australia employee, as posing a risk to them.

If Harley can produce just one sentence, one phrase, a few words that are evidence of my having harassed or intimidated her staff or placed them at risk,  both my case and my credibility are greatly weakened. I have lied. I am a liar.

I imagine, from time to time, that the office of the Ombudsman reviews its modus operandi. I would like to suggest that a ‘fast lane’ be implemented (as in supermarkets)  for people such as myself who really only require someone in the relevant position of authority (the office of the Ombudsman, for instance) to ask a simple question: “Ms Harley, could you please identify the dates on which Mr Ricketson communicated with Screen Australia by either email or in a letter in the manner you refer to in your letter of 10th May banning him from having any contact with Screen Australia?”

If Harley produces the correspondence no further investigation is required by your office, thus saving precious time that could be better spent on more weighty matters.

The same could have applied 17 months ago when Elisa Harris failed to ask of Fiona Cameron the one question that could have resolved this matter in half an hour: “Please, Ms Cameron, could you provide me with the dates and modes of transmission of the correspondence you refer to in your letter of 12th Nov 2010?”

Please, Ms Larkins, get someone to call Ruth Harley and ask her the one question mentioned above. If Harley cannot produce the correspondence, my complaint is clearly worthy of having more questions asked in relation to it.

best wishes

James Ricketson

My suggestion was ignored by your office and now, 50 or so months later, it looks as though I may be left with no alternative but to obtain what Screen Australia considers to be ‘evidence’ through action in the Supreme Court.

Three days before the original Screen Australia ban I wrote the following to your office:

Ms Alison Larkins
Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442, Canberra                                                                                   

7th May 2012

Dear Ms Larkins
                                                            re 2010-118398

Following on from my earlier correspondence. It is now more than three weeks since I made an application to Screen Australia for development monies for my contentious project CHANTI’S WORLD. My cover letter  of 13th April (enclosed) makes clear the dilemma confronting both myself and Screen Australia vis a vis ‘conflict of interest’. There has been no acknowledgement of receipt of my application and no response to my letter. This is par for the course with Screen Australia. I have experienced variations of this many times since the organization’s inception. Fiona Cameron’s placing on file demonstrably false assertions about me was merely the tip of the iceberg of the problems any filmmaker experiences if/she has the temerity to make a complaint about Screen Australia.

On 2nd May I sent a follow up letter (also enclosed) asking what, precisely, had happened with my application. Again, silence. I have experienced 17 months of this sort of treatment in relation to CHANTI’S WORLD and it is, to put it mildly, more than a little annoying. To date, for reasons you will be familiar with, the office of the Ombudsman has played no role whatsoever in trying to bring this dispute to a logical and fair conclusion – despite clear evidence that Screen Australia is in breach of its own guidelines, the APS Code of Conduct and that lying to cover mistakes is countenanced at the very highest levels of the organization.

The assessment of any project of mine submitted to the Documentary Section of Screen Australia can only be made when my dispute with Screen Australia is settled one way or another. In essence what it boils down to is this: either James Ricketson has been spinning a yarn, playing fast and loose with the truth, or Screen Australia cocked up badly and, rather than admit to its errors and rectify its mistakes, has bent over backwards to first of all ignore and then cover them up by placing lies on file. If it is me who has been playing fast and loose with the truth I owe various people apologies and Screen Australia would be quite within its rights to sue me for defamation. If Screen Australia is at fault the organization owes me an apology that makes it possible for me to make applications to the organization without there being a conflict of interest.

If no resolution is achieved by the end of this week I will have no choice but to withdraw my application and wait until there is a resolution one way or another. Given that Screen Australia has shown no interest at all in resolving the matter (other than by threatening to sue me) and given that the office of Minister for the Arts likewise shows no interest at all in its resolution, I am left with the Office of the Ombudsman as my last port of call. Alas, your office likewise seems to have no interest in the matter – leaving me with little choice but to try and force a resolution by publishing my correspondence online and hoping that Screen Australia will commence legal proceedings against me so that the facts can come to light and a fair resolution be reached. That anyone should have to go to such lengths to achieve a fair resolution to a complaint is absurd!

best wishes

James Ricketson

That it should be necessary for me to utilize the Supreme Court in this way, simply to obtain evidence of guilt, is absurd. It will be a time and energy consuming exercise for all involved.

Please bring this ongoing farce to an end, Mr Neave, by insisting that Screen Australia provide evidence of the growing list of crimes and misdemeanors it alleges I have committed this past five years and which, it believes, warrant my being banned.

best wishes

James Ricketson

cc Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Graeme Mason, CEO Screen Australia
Fiona Cameron, COO Screen Australia
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)

Australian Director’s Guild

For Mitch Fifield Minister for (non) Communication

Senator Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications and the Arts
Level 2
4 National Circuit
Barton, ACT 2600                                                                                         

22nd August 2016

Dear Senator Fifield

Following on from my previous letters, not one of which you have bothered to acknowledge receipt of.

In a letter to my lawyer dated 9th August, Screen Australia’s Head of Legal, Jane Supit, justifies the organization’s latest two year ban on me on the following grounds:

5.1.  Mr Ricketson has engaged in a persistent pattern of unreasonable and highly offensive conduct towards members of Screen Australia’s Board Members and staff.
5.2.  On this basis Screen Australia has properly determined that Mr Ricketson is ineligible for funding…

Given that it would be quite unreasonable to ban a filmmaker for being unreasonable, it is my alleged my “highly offensive conduct” that needs to be addressed.

Is there any evidence at all, between May 2014 and May 2016, that my conduct towards SA staff and members of the board was “highly offensive”?

Ms Supit’s choice of words is designed to obfuscate; to create the illusion that there has been some interpersonal contact between myself and members of staff and the board this past two years. This is not so.

Between May 2014 and May 2016 I have not met with any member of Screen Australia’s staff. I have not met with any member of the Screen Australia board. I have not spoken with any member of staff or the board on the phone. Consequently, Ms Supit’s reference to ‘conduct’ can only apply to letters I have written.

It follows that evidence of my “highly offensive conduct” must be found in letters of mine written between May 2014 and May 2016.  Screen Australia refuses to supply any such evidence to me.

As Jane Supit knows, there has been no-one, this past four years, (including the Minister for the Arts) in a position to insist that evidence be provided in support of the ban on me.  Ms Supit knows that she can place whatever she wishes on file and that no-one will ask her to back up what she writes with evidence. In doing so she joins Fiona Cameron, Ruth Harley and Graeme Mason from senior management within Screen Australia in the creation of the fiction that I intimidate staff, that I place them at risk, that I behave in a highly offensive manner. Whilst perhaps not, strictly speaking, defamatory, such lies effectively destroy my reputation in the eyes of anyone who reads the files. And this will be the case in perpetuity; until these false allegations are revealed for what they are – false allegations.

Yet again I have requested of the Commonwealth Ombudsman evidence that, between May 2014 and may 2016, I wrote letters to Screen Australia staff and the board that contained anything that could be deemed to be “highly offensive.” I have been asking of the Ombudsman for four years that he insist on evidence in support of allegations and not rely merely on allegations. To date my requests have fallen on deaf ears. I have also been asking you, Minister, to request of Screen Australia evidence of my alleged crimes. You have ignored all of my correspondence. Or is it more accurate to say that Caroline Fulton has ignored it? That Caroline Fulton has not seen it as being of sufficient importance to bring to your attention?

Until such time as I am provided with evidence of my guilt of any of the allegations that have been levelled at me by Screen Australia this past four years I will continue to advocate my innocence and will, if need be, pursue this matter in the Supreme Court.

In many of my letters this past two years I have suggested and requested meetings with members of Screen Australia staff and the board to resolve this dispute. These requests have been ignored.  Perhaps Ms Supit  includes all these letters, all these requests for dialogue, for mediation, for evidence of my “highly offensive conduct’, as evidence my being ‘unreasonable.’

Mr Fifield, I would like to travel to Canberra to meet with you at your earliest possible convenience. I request that you place on the table, in such a meeting, at least three extracts from my correspondence that you believe warrant my being banned for six years for the reasons provided by Screen Australia.

If you accede to this request I strongly suggest that you read the following, in full. It is my blow by blow refutation of the charges laid against me from 19th Sept. 2012:

A quote:

“…some clarity on what has occurred this past three years is required – especially since it was you who effectively banned me as a ‘proven producer’ back in June 2009 and have so played a significant role as a catalyst in the initiation of the dispute between myself and Screen Australia – a subject to which I will return below. In the meantime, however, let’s be clear where we stand with Liz being ‘distressed’ by my email yesterday. Is ‘being distressed’ the same as ‘feeling intimidated’? If so, am I also able to claim, having been enormously distressed by the way that Screen Australia has dealt with ‘Chanti’s World’, that I have been intimidated by yourself, by Ross, by Claire, by Fiona, by Ruth Harley? Of course not.

Unless you are using a dictionary whose definition of ‘intimidate’ is radically different from the two I consulted (Oxford and Funk and Wagnalls), lets work with these two:

“To make timid, scare. To discourage from acting by threats of violence.”

            “Overawe with fear, especially in order to influence conduct.”

Have I sought to scare Liz or to discourage her from acting in any way with a threat of violence? Have I sought to overawe her with fear in order to influence her conduct?

Your use of the word ‘aggressive’ is also worthy of comment. My aggression has manifested itself in asking questions that Liz , Ross, Julia, Claire, Fiona, Ruth and yourself simply refuse to answer – transparency and accountability not being priorities in SA as it is currently being administered. That you should define the asking of questions, the repeated asking of questions that I have a right to ask, as ‘aggressive’ explains why and how it is that you can send me pretty well every letter and email I have written to Screen Australia and refer to it as ‘intimidating’. I am still somewhat at a loss, however, to understand how my correspondence has placed Liz or anyone else at Screen Australia ‘at risk’ – unless, that is, it is at risk of being distressed by being asked questions. Can you please explain to me what, in Screen Australia-speak, ‘at risk’ means? This is not a rhetorical question but I feel sure that it falls into the category of questions that no-one at Screen Australia is prepared to answer - standard SA operating procedure.”

‘At risk’ is the sort of language used in applications for Apprehended Violence Orders. ‘At risk’ was employed by Screen Australia in a crude attempt to present me in as unfavourable a light as possible. Screen Australia succeeded in its intentions. If you can provide any evidence at all that I posed a risk to any member of Screen Australia staff, please place it on the table in the meeting I am proposing.

yours sincerely

James Ricketson
Graeme Mason
Fiona Cameron
Louise Vardanega
Commonwealth Ombudsman

Australian Director’s Guild