25 April 2011

HSA delay - Volume Ten: the end is nigh for uncontracted assessors

[On the morning of 23 April 2011, I sent the following email to all of the uncontracted Green Loans assessors I know, and a few other interested parties.]

Hi everyone,

I write to you today with heavy heart. I fear that the fight is over, not with a bang but with a whimper.

I write to advise you to take DCCEE up on its Financial Assistance Scheme.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving this advice because I believe that what DCCEE is offering is fair. I don't believe it at all, and yet, I intend to take the advice myself. I'm saying this because we have run out of other options.

Over the past week, I've been in touch with the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman. They are processing a complaint from me, as you know from these emails, and I managed to get hold of our case officer, although our phone call was less than encouraging. He gave me the impression that the Ombudsman would not be looking into either our CDDA claim or DCCEE's refusal to answer it, citing some hair-splitting about this being an issue of "defective governance rather than defective administration", and brushing me off as if I really didn't have that much to complain about. By the end of the call, I just knew that he couldn't wait to hang up.

It's a terribly disappointing result. I've got it in me in the next week or so, I might fire off an angry letter to the COO and thank the wonderful and helpful staff there for nothing. It did cross my mind that when government administration is as incompetent as we have now, an office such as the Ombudsman's is either going to lower its standards or be so desperately understaffed that it can't do its job. I'm not ruling out bullying from other parts of the government, though, and I suspect that the answer is somewhere in between.

The very last port of call for us is a legal firm, that I can't name at this point, that seemed interested in our story and was looking into whether we had a case in law. I have asked them to get back to me on Wednesday - about as late as it could be left - but our initial conversations didn't fill me with confidence. I'd send them a stack of documents to read, and I presume they've read the bulk of them by now. That said, I'd have to be either pretty brave or pretty foolish to think there's more than a 20% chance of them starting a class action.

All of this has resigned me to the idea that if I don't get my up-to-$3000 from DCCEE, I might end up with nothing. I always suspected that being right and being courageous, even in combination, weren't going to be enough. We've come as far as we can by ourselves, but we never found a legal team with the courage to join us, and that's what we need to keep going.

Of course, I have to shed a few strong principles to say this, and it sickens me to concede to a government that has done so much to insult us. I am certain that many of you feel that you have waited enough, and suffered enough, and that this escape might be the only chance you get. That's why I've long thought it unconscionable to try to convince you to keep fighting: I know I've never made you any guarantees, but I can't lie to you about the magnitude of the risk you'd be taking by passing up what's in front of you. If we had the leverage of other options, it'd be a different story.

For the record, ABSA has not participated in this process at all. To those of you who recall the survey that ABSA released at the end of February, at the dusk of the Green Loans Program, you might not be surprised to know that ABSA CEO Alison Carmichael was prepared to release this survey in early February, but suddenly changed her mind, citing complaints by unnamed "ABSA staff" that some of the questions could not be asked. Three weeks of arguing the point later, and after no fewer than six drafts, the survey was released just days before DCCEE finalised its assistance packages. Furthermore, Alison did not inform ABSA's Green Loans Working Group, of which I am chair, when the survey was completed, and ABSA staff did not convey the results of the survey for a month afterwards, upon my third request for them. If that doesn't tell you ABSA's opinion of our efforts to stand up for ourselves, I'm not sure how much more clearly I can spell it out.

In that way, however, there is some small blessing to be had from the fact that this whole sordid affair will be over soon. I can only hope and trust that, in your professional capacities, you have left the building sustainability industry, never to return. There's not nearly enough room in it for all of us, and those in control if it don't exactly treat you as if they want you here. Likewise, I can hope and trust that what you are building in your lives is leading you somewhere positive. It's still too soon for me to promise anyone that the industry is in good hands, not least of which because of the efforts to frustrate and punish any inklings of positive change. Until then, it would be heartless and remiss of me to invite you back in; rather, most of you will wisely stay away until you're sure it's safe.

None of this can undo the pain and hardship and destruction that the Green Loans Program has left in its wake. Indeed, as Shakespeare wrote, "the evil that men do lives after them". In any case, I will sleep a lot better at night knowing that the damage is not getting any worse.

Right now, there's a numb sensation in my head, of a heavy load being lifted from my mind. It's not one of victory for having carried such a burden for so long; it's not one of defeat from not having carried it further; but it's not the reward I was hoping for. The disappointment and the relief are still negotiating a statement. Perhaps, in time, the moral victory will be enough.

Warmest regards,

Aaron Nielsen
ABSA Board of Directors

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