‘If you want to change culture you will have to start by changing the organisation’ - Mary Douglas
BRISBANE – In addition to the corporate vandalism and carnage reprised in my Digging & Dumping piece the other day, several other contentious mining ventures await approval from the Papua New Guinea government.
I had included the Wafi-Golpu joint venture southwest of Lae on this list until it received approval a couple of days ago.
Corporate websites and environmental impact statements always depict a patina of purity, a pursuit of perfection amidst relentless propaganda, doublespeak and alluring photos which mask a sinister deification of shareholder theory.
An organic veneer disguises an architecture of oppression ruthlessly enforced by mercenary and socially autistic senior executives with high hopes and zero vision.
This is the paradigm that destroys communities, vandalises learning and ignores wisdom.
It is underpinned by a callous militaristic clockwork regime employing a ‘fit in or fcuk off’ contingent labour hire workforce in which every last one of you is just another brick in the wall.
Many of the projects look like nothing more than a festering Ponzi scheme using borrowed money which, whether they get to repay it or not, is of little concern.
Charles Dickens knew people of this mettle when he described credit as “a system whereby a person who cannot pay gets another person who cannot pay to guarantee that he can pay.”
It’s no longer a matter of whether the venture implodes or explodes but how long it takes before the event happens.
There is of course a half-hearted quest for a scapegoat but the carousel of culpability moves on and any sympathy for the losers falls somewhere between shit and syphilis in its sincerity.
The chief executive officer is rewarded with a golden parachute and eventually bestowed with an order of chivalry, its hierarchical importance inversely proportional to the recipient’s emotional intelligence.
No last rights
‘Justice and judgement lie often a world apart’ - Emmeline Pankhurst
In most countries under a British colonial influence, major transport or industrial disasters are followed by a coronial inquest, a sombre and daunting event where naïve workers traumatised by sudden death suffer again in the sterile vacuum of an official witch hunt.
Its officer of the crown, the coroner, is appointed in the expectation he will protect corporate and state interests and avoid establishing liability.
It’s an anachronistic institution in which unexplained or sudden demise is categorised in enigmatic findings such as misadventure, accidental death, suicide, natural causes or an open finding where heads are scratched and regrets mumbled about evidence that didn’t pass muster.
Beneath the magisterial dignity of official inquiry, proffered sympathy and sensitive acknowledgement lurks an agenda of how death can be explained without apportioning blame or liability.
This grim enactment is charged with blame and guilt although nobody is on trial. Seasoned barristers believe cross examining at coronial inquests is akin to working with both hands tied behind their back, the inquisitorial wolf forced into sheep’s clothing with an end result usually disappointing and painful for grieving families whose only parole is death or dementia.
A coronial inquest typically kicks bereaved dependents and any survivors in the guts when they are at their most vulnerable. They are left chasing smoke with many answers blowing in the wind like the withering flowers on a roadside traffic accident shrine.
After the Hillsborough football stadium disaster at Sheffield, South Yorkshire, crushed lifeless 96 spectators in 1989, the coronial inquest returned controversial findings of accidental death.
Following this verdict a bereaved and despondent father stayed behind in the intimidating courtroom and made observations that were quite extraordinary:
“At the end of Dr Popper’s inquest I witnessed something that proved my opinion that Dr Popper was too close to the police.
“After the verdicts were delivered everyone left the courtroom but I stayed behind for a little while.
“As I left the council chamber I saw Dr Popper’s office. The door was open and I could see police officers inside laughing.
“I then saw two further police officers emerge either from a lift or stairs. They were carrying crates of wine and beer and they took it into the office.
“They were having a celebration. Dr Popper was in there with the police. An officer saw me and slammed the door in my face.”
Beyond harm there was no closure, just the obstinate torment of burning injustice, the agony exacerbated by sinister delay, denial and dire tactics.
The suffering compounded by derisory compensation, flawed procedure, enigmatic findings and the patronising personality of unaccountable power.
On 26 April 2016, after a new inquest lasting more than two years, the longest case ever heard in British legal history, the jury reached a verdict that the 96 were unlawfully killed due to the gross negligence of the police officer in command, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield. The jury’s determination explicitly absolved the victims of any blame.”
But behind the exculpation lay 27 years of a pageant which sacrificed truth and accountability to secure assets, socialise loss and protect the reputations of the powerful at the expense of the betrayed and grieving powerless.
In Australia, there have been several controversial coronial inquests and public inquiries - Whiskey Au Go Go, Luna Park, Childers hostel, Dreamworld and the 2020 Anglo American Grosvenor coal mine explosion.
In Papua New Guinea, law and order issues always attract significant media attention with an emphasis on raskol street crime in major cities.
However, many corporate recidivists are provided with freedom to harm and much white collar crime in the mining and minerals sector remains unpunished. Devastation is easier and more spectacular than creation.
There is a better way
‘He who opens a school door closes a prison’ - Victor Hugo
'There is more enjoyment in life than a mere going to and returning from work, and looking forward to Saturday night to draw their wages' - Lord Leverhulme
In September 2021 many Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatchiks attended a two-day conference in Beijing, where President Xi Jinping announced the need for China to expand its talent pool and attract science and technology professionals.
The omnipotent dictator for life also recommended rigorous regulation of high incomes to complement the CCP’s doctrine of common prosperity with the intent bridging the chasm of urban and rural inequality, preventing exploitation of the underclass and alleviating absolute poverty.
Much of Xi’s rhetoric sounded eerily familiar to John F Kennedy’s aphorism that a rising tide lifts all boats or Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics. But who was there to say.
In the modern world’s worship of celebrity culture, historical memory can be dangerous and dissent is recognised as a curse.
In the United Kingdom at the turn of the twentieth century, the doctrine of common prosperity was supported by Lord Leverhulme.
It involved establishment of a large soap and detergent manufacturing complex in Cheshire on a marshy swamp at Bromborough Pool, a tidal creek just beyond the jurisdiction and bureaucracy of the Liverpool port authorities.
A garden village was constructed nearby to accommodate many of the factory’s full time employees. Its model housing provided materially decent living conditions for working people.
Lord Leverhulme inspired recreation and encouraged the promotion of art, literature, science and music. Additional benefits included welfare schemes, further education and entertainment facilities.
It was a bold and benevolent experiment in socialising business relations by sharing corporate profits.
Port Sunlight village, as it was known, represented an embodiment of benevolent industrial feudalism.
Every section was designed by different architects and included quaint boulevards with expansive strips of unfenced immaculate lawns and the rear gardens of each dwelling were discreetly concealed from its main thoroughfares.
The estate was equipped with allotments, public buildings, social services and other essential community infrastructure: the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a cottage hospital, a theatre and music hall, schools, churches, a temperance hotel and an outdoor swimming pool.
In my own family, conversations about Port Sunlight village rekindle fond memories. After many years of persistence and tactful diplomacy from my cousin, our maternal grandfather’s name was recently added to and inscribed on the Port Sunlight War Memorial near the Lady Lever Art Gallery in the centre of the village.
During World War I, my grandfather, employed at the Lever Brothers factory in Port Sunlight, was conscripted and sent off to fight soon after my grandmother, a fiery colleen from Dublin’s fair city, became pregnant.
My grandfather never returned home. He was killed in action somewhere near the Franco-German border. My mother never saw her father.
Almost a decade later, during the Great Depression, a naïve representative from the Department of War knocked on my grandmother’s door and delivered her deceased husband’s service medals.
Our family stories suggest it was not a pretty sight. My grandmother vehemently proclaimed a few loaves of bread and other sustenance would have been more appropriate and better appreciated.
The trinkets were thrown in the official’s face and he was struck over the head with an iron poker, the gaping wound produced a few cupfuls of claret and requiring several stitches.
It seems no criminal charges were laid.
After meticulous investigation, my cousin eventually retrieved the medals and mounted a successful campaign to have my grandfather’s name inscribed on the Port Sunlight village war memorial.
Following my mother’s funeral in 2011, I visited her stepsister who had worked as a supervisor in the Lever Brothers factory canteen and lived in one of the charming company houses in the village.
I strolled to the monument in the centre of the village to pay my respects and found my grandfather’s name inscribed thereon.
My mother had never discussed her misfortune or prolonged adversity. We discovered her plight only during conversations with my cousin at the wake following her funeral.
My late brother, Ron Corden, began his career as a chartered accountant in the Unilever Export Limited division at its Port Sunlight headquarters.
This was followed by a brief stint of compulsory national service with the Cheshire Regiment. It involved guarding Rudolf Walter Richard Hess at Spandau Prison in western Berlin.
After national service, Ron returned to the United Kingdom and Lever Brothers and eventually secured important tenure with the United Bank of Africa in Lagos, Nigeria.
In 1969, he began work with the Papua New Guinea Investment Corporation in Port Moresby. Several readers of PNG Attitude, elder statesmen and former kiaps may remember him.
Following independence in 1975, Ron was appointed company secretary with South Pacific Brewery at its original manufacturing site near Badili.
His acquaintances included Chris Ashton, Bruce Flynn, John Tideman, Warren Pearson, Keith Tetley, Peter Colley, Dick Kelly, Seth Grady, Jim Sinclair, Pelak Sapul and others.
My athletics career in the early 1980s involved several years as captain of the Wirral Athletic Club at Port Sunlight, used during the filming of Chariots of Fire in 1981.
Following my extensive lobbying of local councillors, the deteriorating dog track was eventually replaced by a modern synthetic version. The picturesque grandstand remains, heritage protected.
There is an interesting athlete’s name recorded on the Wirral Athletic Club male cross country champions (under 18) 1933-34 roll of honour: former UK prime minister, Harold Wilson.
I still hold the club record for 10,000 metres and in 1983, just before emigrating to Australia, I finished fourth in the Nike International Vancouver Marathon. A photo of me approaching the finish line is prominently displayed on a wall in the clubhouse changing rooms.
In 1999, the charming exurbia was handed over to the Port Sunlight Village Trust and is no longer owned by the company.
The cottage hospital was closed for many years but was elegantly refurbished and has recently reopened as the plush Leverhulme Hotel. The nearby outdoor pool was converted into a garden centre and cafeteria.
Although most of the houses are now privately owned, the village remains captivatingly unique and current residents fervently protect its architectural merit and charisma.
The legacy of Lord Leverhulme at Port Sunlight village provides a remarkable contrast to the rapacious and barbaric plundering of Rio Tinto at Panguna on Bougainville Island or BHP at Ok Tedi in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea.
It reinforces what can be achieved through a transdisciplinary approach with genuine leadership, which is bequeathed by followers and underpinned by commitment, respect and humility.
Si monumentum requiris circumspice. If you would seek my monument, look around you.