Wednesday, September 21, 2016

letter for Graeme Mason, Chief Executive, Screen Australia

Graeme Mason
Chief Executive Officer
Screen Australia
Level 7, 45 Jones St
Ultimo 2007                                                                                                              

6th Sept. 2016

Dear Graeme

Given your refusal to  provide me with evidence that I intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia staff, given the refusal of the office of the Ombudsman to ask for such evidence and of the Australian Government Solicitor to provide it, I am left with no choice now but to commence proceedings in the Supreme Court; to subpoena from SA, the Ombudsman and the Australian Government solicitor documents containing alleged evidence of the offenses that led to my being banned.

My lawyer tells me that such proceedings will cost me up to $50,000 to obtain copies of these documents. Or, should I say, for it to become apparent that there is no evidence that I am guilty of having intimidated or placed anyone at risk. A waste of money, yes, but my reputation is worth that amount to me.

Given that Screen Australia will probably likewise spend $50,000 in its attempt to keep  such evidence secret (the total absence of evidence secret!), around $100,000, along with the time and energy of many people, will be expended on a legal exercise that I suspect the Supreme Court judge will deem, quite rightly, to be absurd. It will surprise me not at all if s/he shakes her head in bafflement and asks the relevant parties why I have had to resort to the Supreme Court to acquire evidence of my guilt!

On 11th Nov 2013 I wrote in a letter to you the following words:

“I had hoped it would not be necessary to involve you in this dispute. It is unfair that both Ruth Harley and the Board have left me with no option, now that you are Chief Executive, but to ask you to either provide me with evidence of my crimes or lift the ban.”

You did not bother to respond to this letter. You were going to stick my Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron regardless of the facts. You have made it clear this past two and a half years, however, not only that you support the original ban placed  on me in the absence of any evidence but have extended the ban by another 2 years on the most spurious of grounds.

Since becoming Chief Executive Officer you have ignored my every request to be provided with evidence of behaviour on my part that warrants these ongoing 2 year bans; just as those before you (Ruth Harley and Fiona Cameron) ignored my multiple requests to be provided with evidence that I intimidated and placed at risk SA staff. Indeed, with a logic that is truly Kafkaesque, you characterize these multiple requests of mine as harassment and cite this ‘harassment’ as a reason why I need to be banned further!

Contrary to both the spirit and the word of Freedom of Information legislation you have made it clear (in writing) that you will accede to no further  FOI requests from me in relation to evidence that  you claim warrants my being banned.  This is bureaucratic byllying of the worst kind.  (I imagine that the expression ‘bureaucratic bullying’, as with my use of the word ‘Mc Carthyism’ will be cited in 2018 as a further reason to ban me!) And you can get away with this because there is no-one, no body, that will hold you or the Screen Australia board accountable.

You have made the ban on me your own now, Graeme. You are responsible, along with the Screen Australia board,  for the wastage of time, energy and money that will now ensue as I pursue this in the Supreme Court.

It was, of course, Fiona Cameron’s and Ruth Harley’s original intention that the ban inflict sufficient damage on my career to induce me to stop asking for evidence and cease being a public critic of Screen Australia. In establishing Screen Australia’s capacity to harm my career, and its willingness to do so, I was supposed to keep my mouth shut and take down my blog. It was also intended that I become an object lesson to other filmmakers who might be foolish enough to criticise Screen Australia or demand that senior members of its staff behave in a transparent and accountable manner.

I did not, however, play the role I supposed to play according to the script Screen Australia so hastily wrote in May 2012. I did not take the ban on me lying down and here we are, more than four years down the track, firmly entrenched in our respective position. Mine is that common sense, natural justice and old fashioned professional courtesy dictate that a person accused of a serious offence (and ‘placing at risk’ is a serious offence) be appraised of evidence that he is guilty as charged. Screen Australia’s position is: How dare you have the temerity to challenge us! You expect accountability and transparency from us! We are the money (in both the literal and metaphorical sense of the word). We have told you to stop writing to us but you persist. You are harassing Screen Australia staff and will be banned every two years until you learn to play the role we want you to play.

In Screen Australia’s ongoing fatwa you have been ably supported by the office of the Ombudsman – a succession of whose ‘investigating’ staff have refused to ask Screen Australia for evidence of the offences for which I have been banned. The best that Kent Purvis has been able to come up with, by way of justification for the latest ban is:

(1)  You have referred to the actions of SA ‘childish, stupid and counter-productive.

(2)  You have referred to the actions of SA as Mc Carthyism, directly tying the refusal of communication to your criticism of that agency.

(3)  You have made reference to SA representatives as having lied, or being liars.

The Ombudsman, through Kent Purvis, supports the proposition that if I would only stop asking for evidence of my alleged offenses the ban on me will be lifted in May 2018. This is a little very naïve but more importantly for me to cease asking for evidence would by to give my own tacit approval to Screen Australia of the ban.

Screen Australia has also been ably supported in this ban by the Australian Government solicitor. She refuses to release to me the evidence in her possession, provided by Ruth Harley in May 2012, relating to my having intimidated and placed at risk members of SA staff. I will, through the Supreme Court, subpoena Ruth Harley’s submission.

Screen Australia’s fatwa has also been enabled by the Australian Director’s Guild – an organization now so dependent on Screen Australia funding, so terrified of offending senior management within SA, that it dare not even mention in its newsletter the ongoing bans placed on one of the AGD’s founding members.
The impact of your ban had been brought back to me in a very concrete way this past few months in the following way:

Twelve years ago I started to film a documentary about Anu Singh, whose killing of Joe Cinque 20 years ago resulted in Helen Garner writing a book entitled “Joe Cinque’s Consolation.” This book has, as you know, been produced as a film; soon to be released. Screen Australia is an investor in this film.

For a couple of years I developed (as producer, director and cameraman) a documentary about Anu Singh and the circumstances surrounding her killing of Joe Cinque. The documentary, totally self-funded, is one that I believe would, in the months to come, be of great interest to a large Australian audience. I do not, unfortunately, have the financial resources to complete the film.

Under normal circumstances I could (and would) make an application to Screen Australia for such funds to edit the film. Screen Australia may well have knocked back my application for a variety of reasons, of course, but I would have been able to have it assessed  on its merits as a film. Your ban makes it impossible for me to make an application. Your ban makes it impossible for me to even speak with a member of Screen Australia staff on the telephone about this documentary.

You believe the best way to deal with critics, the best way to deal with those who ask too many (or awkward) questions is to  prevent them,  in any way Screen Australia  is able to (and there are many ways) from making films. Such petty vindictive behaviour is not only acceptable to you but is practiced by yourself. To what end? What gains accrue to Screen Australia from refusing to allow me to make an application with “Offending Women” – the title of my Anu Singh documentary? Do you and Fiona Cameron and the board members chalk this up as some kind of victory? “We sure have taught that James Ricketson a lesson!”

Really, Graeme, what a disappointment you have turned out to be as Chief Executive Officer of Screen Australia.

best wishes

James Ricketson

Senator Mitch Fifield, Minister for the Arts
Ms Louise Vardanega, Australian Government Solicitor (acting)
Commonwealth Ombdusman

Australian Director’s Guild.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Commonwealth Ombudsman passes the buck to a man who refuses to ask questions

Mr Colin Neave AM
Commonwealth Ombudsman
GPO Box 442
ACT 2601   
1st September 2016

Dear Mr Neave

Kent Purvis has explained to me that any letter I write to you will be forwarded to him to deal with. Fair enough. However, as captain of the ship you are responsible ultimately for the way in which investigations are conducted by your office and should be held accountable for the failure of your staff to conduct investigations properly.

I need not add too much to what I have written already. I will make a formal request for a review but I know, in advance, that this will be a waste of time as you simply refuse to ask Screen Australia to provide evidence in support of the the ongoing bans placed on me.

The 3rd and latest ban is the most absurd of all. To quote Kent Purvis’s understanding of the primary reasons for this ban:

(1)  You have referred to the actions of SA ‘childish, stupid and counter-productive.

(2)  You have referred to the actions of SA as Mc Carthyism, directly tying the refusal of communication to your criticism of that agency.

(3)  You have made reference to SA representatives as having lied, or being liars.

That Mr Purvis accepts these as sufficient reason to ban me from making any form of application to Screen Australia or from speaking with members of staff is mind-boggling.

Do you, as Commonwealth Ombudsman, believe that referring to the actions of public servants as ‘childish, stupid and counterproductive’ is a crime worthy of a two year ban?

Do you believe that drawing parallels between Screen Australia’s ban on me and ‘Mc Carthyism’ of the 1950s that saw certain filmmakers banned is a crime worthy of a two year ban?

What about my assertion that ‘SA representatives as having lied, or being liars’?

I have provided your office with ample evidence that this is a statement of fact; not verbal abuse. To call a liar a liar is not offensive.

The most damaging of all the lies told by various senior members of Screen Australia over a period of years is the allegation that I intimidated and placed at risk members of Screen Australia’s staff in my correspondence prior to May 2012.

The truth or otherwise of this allegation, clearly, is to be found in the correspondence itself. As I have declared from the outset, if there is any evidence that I have intimidated or placed SA staff at risk I deserve to be banned. If there is no evidence senior personnel at Screen Australia have lied. They are liars. A statement of fact.

On countless occasions now I have asked Screen Australia to provide me with evidence, from my correspondence, that I am guilty as charged. On countless occasions now I have asked a veritable gaggle of different people in the office of the Ombudsman to request of Screen Australia that it provide evidence. They have all refused to do so, claiming that the question of the intimidating correspondence has already been investigated.

Let’s just presume that this is the case, though both you and I know it is not!

During your office’s 2012 ‘investigation’ your predecessor must have been provided with some extracts from my correspondence that led the Ombudsman to conclude that, yes, I had indeed intimidated and placed at risk members of staff. How else could the Ombudsman have arrived at this conclusion, if not by considering the evidence? This evidence must be in your now voluminous files relating to this matter. It would be very simple for you to instruct Kent Purvis to present me this evidence – just a few examples that leave no doubt as to my having intimidated and placed at risk members of staff.

This is, of course, a hypothetical scenario because you have no evidence on file of my guilt and no-one from your office has ever asked for it.

Now, in order to obtain this evidence, I may be left with no choice but to initiate action in the Supreme Court – a time, energy and money-consuming exercise to achieve the same result as a telephone call from you to Screen Australia with a variation of the following words:  “Please provide Mr Ricketson with evidence.”

If Screen Australia cannot provide evidence, I am, by definition, innocent.

Kent Purvis argues that I have not been ‘banned’ at all. This is but semantics on his part. As you will be aware, in any small industry, there will be serious repercussions for anyone who falls out of favour with the organization that calls all the shots within that industry. In this case it is Screen Australia. SA’s ban on me has closed many doors for me. Indeed, it has closed most doors. This was the intention of the ban. To render me persona non grata.

By way of illustration please read the letter I have written today to the Chair of Screen NSW, Helen Wright, (attached) and the accompanying letters I have written to senior members of Screen NSW’s staff. Their refusal to communicate with me is par for the course for me these days as a result of Screen Australia’s ongoing fatwa – emanating from the original and demonstrably false intimidation allegations made against me.

I am not a whistle-blower (though I have been a harsh public critic of Screen Australia) but I am being treated as one. And the Office of the Ombudsman is giving Screen Australia its tacit approval to keep banning me (and making it impossible for me to work) unless I cease and desist from asking for evidence in support of the ban; until I willing give up not just my right to be provided with evidence but my right of free speech also.

If this is the way in which the office of the Ombudsman deals with legitimate complaints, the way in which it investigates, we, the public, have little reason to have confidence in your or your office in matters of great import.

Pick up the phone, Mr Neave, or send a memo by email to Screen Australia: “Evidence please.”

best wishes

James Ricketson

Graeme Mason
Senator Mitch Fifield
Ms Louise Vardanega
Australian Director's Guild