A master of lost causes
Missionaries weren’t misfits, but then again….

Dame Carol Kidu sues over film-makers ‘cinematic liberties’

Dame Carol Kidu (Kian-Yan Law)STEPHEN FITZPATRICK | The Australian

IT sounds like a classic tale: rapacious developers, a Third World shanty town razed to make way for a hotel, and the local MP who stands up for her adopted countrymen and women one last time to fight for their heritage.

Except none of it is true, according to the Australian-born doyenne of Papua New Guinea’s parliament, Carol Kidu, who is suing a Sydney film house she says seriously misrepresented her role in a Port Moresby property stoush.

Worse, she says, the filmmakers secured her involvement in their documentary, as well as Australian government funding for it, under false pretences.

Dame Carol, who 50 years ago as a Brisbane schoolgirl fell in love with the boy who became PNG’s first indigenous chief justice, Buri Kidu, says she agreed in 2012 to work with an Australian student filmmaker as a favour to the director’s mother.

She says even then it was only when filmmaker Hollie Fifer assured her she would merely be working on a university project about Dame Carol’s final months in parliament, after a 15-year career that included being opposition leader, the house’s only female MP and a pioneer in women’s and children’s issues, that she became convinced it would be a worthwhile endeavour.

At some point, she says, the focus was switched to a property eviction in the capital, with wild scenes captured on camera as Dame Carol accuses a police officer of heavy-handed tactics.

She claims the angry showdown, now central in the upcoming feature The Opposition, was taken out of context and the community being moved from the urban Mount Paga settlement where it occurred were settlers, not traditional owners, and had known for years of the plan. In fact she, as their local member, had been helping manage their move.

That’s not how Fifer and her producers at independent Sydney film house Media Stockade saw it. In a 2013 funding pitch to the Documentary Australia Foundation, Fifer describes Dame Carol as “an unlikely hero … (and) one of Australia’s most mobile and active freedom fighters.

“When Port Moresby policemen are paid K10,000 to bulldoze the Paga Hill settlement … Dame Carol places herself in the line of fire to save the people. Her fight to stop the construction of the five-star hotel will lead her into dark places and the murky world of international finance and corruption.”

Funding for the enterprise, produced by Rebecca Barry and Madeleine Hetherton, was also secured from Screen Australia and Screen NSW, both of which Dame Carol has written to protesting their involvement.

In a series of exchanges Dame Carol pleaded to be removed from the project altogether, since it was not what she had agreed to and it had left her embarrassed and distressed.

The filmmakers have offered to insert a line at the work’s conclusion stating that “Dame Carol Kidu completely dissociates herself from this documentary” but insist its anti-developer focus, including the Paga Hill evictions, remains a key to the story.

Media Stockade’s Ms Barry declined to comment last night on the NSW Supreme Court case and Fifer did not respond to calls.

“I just feel very sad about the whole thing,” Dame Carol said. “Every time I think about it, I end up in tears.”


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Dr Kristian Lasslett

That is a fair assessment Paul. Its a sad situation alright.

I suppose what disappointed those of us who have worked with the displaced community, and witnessed their suffering first hand, is the context in which Dame Kidu assisted the Paga Hill Development Company.

First, it is my understanding the assistance was provided through a paid contractual relationship between CK Consultancy Limited and Paga Hill Development Company. Of course, this is entirely legal.

However, Dame Kidu had been the leading figure arguing that while Paga Hill should be open to development, that the Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC) was the wrong company to do it. In fact, her reasoning can still be accessed from a press statement published on this blog: http://asopa.typepad.com/files/statement-by-dame-carol-kidu-on-the-paga-hill-scandal.pdf

Her concern appears to have stemmed in part from PHDC's past conduct, and the conduct of its executives. These executives have been involved with companies such as Anvil Project Services, Anvil Legal Services, CCS Anvil, and Destination PNG, which have been censured in a range of inquiries conducted by the Public Accounts Committee, Auditor General's Office, the Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Finance and a number of notable journalists such as Sean Dorney.

So the question is, if this was not the right company to develop Paga Hill, was it the type of company a socially responsible company such as CK Consultancy should be contracting with?

Its a muddy situation, with no black and white answer.

But I can say one thing for sure, I was often there when the filmmakers came down to Paga Hill. And I allowed them to also sit in when I interviewed Dame Kidu as part of my research, because it was my understanding they were following the Paga Hill struggle. Dame Kidu was most adamant in this on-the-record interview, the Paga Hill controversy needed to be exposed publicly and internationally if justice was to be done.

In my view the filmmaker is now doing what Dame Kidu once strongly encouraged.

Paul Barker | Facebook

It's a pity they ended in some dispute.

The company was of course heavy handed and secured control over the land, zoned recreational, a park and entrusted with the National Museum, through rather unconventional means.

Many people supported the human and residential rights of the settlers (some of whom were recent, but others going back to immediately post-war) over the seemingly acquisitive developers (made up of some overseas and influential PNG business persons).

Dame Carol was seen as a bit of a hero in seeking to restrain clear human rights abuses in the heavy handed destruction of long established settlers houses and other property.

She may well have given little support to them as long term residents, not being traditional Motuan landowners, but she did provide a supportive role in the face of aggression and encourage a more courteous process at least.

Of course people have to live somewhere and Moresby has many vast settlements, and in the absence of govt planning and assistance these settlements are where a large portion of the city's working population lives.

There's far more need for the low cost housing that was being bulldozed than for another high cost hotel and luxury apartments. In the end the company had their way and evicted the settlers and turned Paga hill to looking now more like a mine site, but in due course presumably some Gold Coast style development will materialize.

Dame Carol in the end assisted the company in the resettlement process, but she suggests purely to make the inevitable transition smoother and more comfortable for those being evicted.

Some would argue that the settlers still lost out badly in the resettlement, but no doubt Dame Carol would be able to say she did her best; the company probably argues they did too.

Whatever the case, it seems Dame Carol shouldn't deny she had a sort of heroic, or Joan of Arc or David vs Goliath role..or that's how it was widely perceived, at least earlier on....

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)