The fight to stop ‘The Opposition’
Pauline Vetuna, Stella Magazine
New documentary ‘The Opposition’ purports to tell the story of PAGA HILL settlement residents’ struggle against the demolition of their homes, to pave way for the multi-million dollar ‘Paga Hill Estate’ commercial development in PNG. Dame Carol Kidu has taken legal action to try to stop the film’s release. Today we’re looking at how this controversy highlights both free speech concerns and the responsibility of media makers telling Pacific stories to convey the complexities of our region.
“On 12 May 2012, one hundred police officers descended on the prominent Port Moresby landmark, Paga Hill. Armed with assault rifles, machetes and sticks, they had come to demolish one of the city’s oldest settlements” said the UK-based International State Crime Initiative. That year, the Initiative’s PNG coordinator, Dr. Kristian Lasslett, told Pacific Beat that the act contravened the UN principles on development-based forced eviction.
It was partly captured on film in the new documentary ‘The Opposition’ [VIEW TRAILER HERE].
This forced eviction of some 3000 men, women and children from Paga Hill was carried out to allow the development of ‘Paga Hill Estate’ – a hotel and marina precinct being built by the PNG-registered Paga Hill Development Company (PHDC). In 2012 it was controversially awarded the commercial lease for this coveted 13.7 hectare piece of land in central Port Moresby.
The International State Crime Initiative published THIS extensive report that questioned the legitimacy of the PHDC’s land deal, chronicling the “chequered history” of Paga Hill Estate and the 12 May demolition of the Paga Hill Settlement. It also questioned PHDC’s ability to follow through on a promise to resettle the Paga Hill settler community at the Six Mile settlement.
In response to all of the criticism, PHDC’s Secretary Gudmundur Fridriksson vehemently defended the company’s 2 million dollar resettlement efforts, and what it regarded as the necessity of its forced evictions, to The Australian newspaper:
“I don’t think anybody wanted to see it done but if that is what it took to get access to the land then that is what we have to do. There are just squatters and settlers and criminals hanging out there. They are illegal dwellings on somebody else’s land.
Sure there are a handful of people here who have been here from the 1960s, but there would not be more than three houses there that qualify as a house.”
Act Now PNG reported at the time that the Public Accounts Committee had found the land acquisition by the developer was “completely corrupt and fraudulent” prior to the forced eviction being carried out. Then Member for Moresby South electorate, Dame Carol Kidu, spoke out against the proposed development on several grounds – including “the multiplicities of failures and illegalities on the part of the Lands Department and other government bodies concerning that land portion”.
Having witnessed the forced eviction (which she called a demolition, not an eviction), she also expressed concerns about violations of the human rights of settlement residents:
“…bulldozing a community does not solve any problems and has never worked anywhere in the world – it only complicates things and creates a huge human rights issue – the Governor and I and the next MPs are faced with hundreds of displaced families (refugees in their own country) who are now sheltering in tents with candles for lights because their power has been disconnected.
“There are babies, elderly, sick people as well as the fit and some very angry young men who were kicked viciously by police and for many families everything was destroyed – they actually have no food so the others are trying to help them. I watched women being dragged from their homes screaming while bulldozers were ordered to move in until I eventually got the police to stop the demolition because the lawyers were on their way with a Stay Order on humanitarian grounds.”
But Dame Carol Kidu’s views regarding the Paga Hill Estate developer later changed, after PNG’s National Court and Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the development deal and recognised the title. Once this happened, Dame Kidu says she decided to work with the developer to ensure people were appropriately resettled – entering into a 6-month contract with them to assist the resettlement of cooperative Paga Hill evictees.
KIDU’S POSITION: FOR HUMANS RIGHTS, & THE DEVELOPMENT
Dame Carol Kidu is now taking legal action to try to stop the release of ‘The Opposition’, a new documentary which purports to tell the story of Paga Hill residents’ struggle against the Paga Hill Estate development from their perspective – with Dame Kidu portrayed as an “unlikely hero” of sorts. The reason for this, Dame Kidu told The Australian newspaper, is that in her view, the filmmakers misrepresent her role in the Paga Hill land dispute – and the dispute itself.
She accuses the filmmakers of securing her involvement in their documentary (and Australian government funding for it) under false pretences. Dame Kidu also claims that a crucial scene – when she, then PNG Opposition Leader, stepped in front of bulldozers paid to demolish settlement abodes on 12 May 2012 – is taken out of context. The filmmakers have rebutted all allegations in the media.
They claim they have worked with Dame Kidu openly throughout the filmmaking process, that she signed a release form, and continued to cooperate with the filmmakers even after the narrative of the documentary shifted to focus on the Paga Hill land deal (Kidu says her cooperation was actually a culturally specific approach that has not served her well here). Dame Kidu was given a rough cut and a fine cut of the film to view, and the filmmaker’s say she gave them feedback about inaccuracies; they made amendments accordingly.
The film’s producer told the ABC they were shocked by the lawsuit, as in their minds they were in a phase of negotiation about what the title card stating Dame Kidu’s current position should be. The producer said that the film is very clear about the fact that Dame Kidu is not anti-progress or anti-development; rather, Dame Kidu always took a stance strongly in favour of the human rights of settlers.
In fact, it has always been clear that this is Dame Carol Kidu’s position. In 2012, Dame Kidu asserted that although she was not opposed to the development of Paga Hill per se, she had serious misgivings about the way the developer was going about it, in addition to the legality of the land deal. Here are some quotes from Kidu’s extensive and passionate press release concerning the issue:
“Will the Minister ensure that we do not allow this valuable land asset to leave the custodianship of Papua New Guineans for the commercial benefit of a few?”
“Will the PM instruct the Attorney General to ensure that the human rights of our people are protected? Yesterday the lawyer, director, and shareholder for the company, Stanley Liria, went to the Paga settlement with a security company and dogs. Dogs !! for law abiding women and children!!”
It is important to reiterate that Dame Kidu said at the time that she would support an alternate development model for Paga Hill that would benefit “the people of PNG and various State entities”, and that she had always said that the settlement at the base of Paga Hill would eventually have to go. It should also be noted that the filmmakers say they emphasised this in the film, and in no way try to insinuate Kidu was against the development.
TELLING THE WHOLE STORY: DAME CAROL KIDU, PHDC & RESETTLEMENT
In 2013 Dame Kidu entered into a contract with PHDC facilitated through her newly established company, C K Consultancy Limited, after she was personally approached by Fridriksson and offered a consultancy deal. She told PNG Attitude blog last year that the six-month contract was a way for her to assist the families from the settlements who chose to take a deal to be relocated to Six Mile (now called Tagua community):
“Because the issue of relocation is a critical aspect of the urbanisation policy that has never been addressed, it interested me to actually work with the practicalities on the ground.”
“In all of it, my interest has been in the people, a few of whom have been extremely difficult to work with”.
She has said that it was the first time that a company tried to do a proper relocation exercise, and is proud to have been involved with it.
Dame Kidu worked with PHDC after the PNG Supreme Court upheld the previous decision of the National Court that recognised the title held by PHDC and gave the company full access to its 13.7 hectare Paga Hill commercial lease – and then ceased contact with Dr. Kristian Lasslett of International State Crime Initiative, whose research she had reportedly assisted on a few occasions.
Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Dame Kidu “formally clarified” her 2012/2013 criticisms of PHDC, stating in a letter to Fridriksson:
“After working closely with the company during the relocation exercise, I realise now with the benefit of hindsight, that Paga Hill Development Company’s efforts to achieve harmonious resettlement have been genuine.
“Please accept this letter as my formal notification that I no longer stand by my 2012-2013 statements which were based on the limited information at the time.”
Dame Kidu says she is aware of how it looks, but maintains her opposition to the film has nothing to do with her former business relationship with PHDC, and everything to do with inaccuracies within the film:
“I know people will accuse me of being bought off. I’m not [PHDC’s] stooge, it’s just that this film is unbalanced.”
FREEDOM OF SPEECH CONCERNS
Last week, Dame Carol Kidu spoke to Radio National’s Drive program about her lawsuit against the makers of ‘The Opposition’ and attempt to suppress the film, telling them that she is “tired of people coming into PNG and not telling the full story”. The host pressed her about how her attempt to block the film’s release could be construed as an attempt to curtail freedom of speech.
When asked why it wouldn’t be better to just let people see the film and make up their own minds, Dame Kidu argued that she opposes that, because people will watch the film and “believe this version of the narrative”. Given that the principle of freedom of speech holds that even those you oppose have the freedom to tell their version of the narrative, this was somewhat troubling.
Audiences also have no way of ascertaining whether or not Dame Kidu’s accusations regarding factual omissions are true unless they are given an opportunity to see the film. In the interim, Dame Kidu has had several radio and media platforms to air her disgust at the documentary, whilst its makers defend it as a balanced, fact-checked piece of journalistic filmmaking that accurately tells the story of the people resisting the Paga Hill Estate development.
HUMAN RIGHTS OF SETTLERS?
In all of the recent reporting on Dame Kidu’s stoush with the filmmakers of ‘The Opposition’, little has been reported about the fate, current condition and welfare of former Paga Hill settlement residents themselves – the people captured in the trailer for the documentary, and whose distress and mistreatment were described by Kidu in her 2012 eyewitness statements.
Meanwhile Joe Moses, the film’s main protagonist and Paga Hill resistance leader, is reportedly in hiding. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the reason for this depends on which side of the dispute you talk to: anti-development activists say he is fearful of his life due to threats by corrupt PNG police; whilst critics say he is hiding from fellow settlers who pooled their money to fund the Paga Hill legal case Joe Moses co-ordinated.
Speaking to Radio National last week, Dame Carol Kidu insisted that members of Joe Moses’ group had threatened Paga Hill settlers who wanted to take a deal with PHDC and be compensated/resettled; that she herself was almost run over deliberately by a young man angry that she was speaking to young women settlers who actually wanted to take a resettlement deal and move out. Dame Kidu stated those left homeless were those who resisted to the very end.
Their fate remains unclear.
Dame Carol Kidu has hired Australian law firm Kennedys to fight against ‘The Opposition’ being shown in any forum.