It began as a student film project but soon morphed into something much larger – including an unexpected and bruising legal battle.
Karl Quinn | Sydney Morning Herald | 29 April 2017
Dame Carol Kidu didn’t recognise the young Australian woman who said she wanted to make a film about her life in New Guinean politics in 2012, even though they’d shared breakfast a few years before that. But she has no trouble remembering Hollie Fifer now. It’s amazing how an ugly legal battle can jog the memory.
Fifer, who is 28, first met Dame Carol with her mother Dimity, a former CEO of Australian Volunteers International, in 2008. By the time the then-AFTRS student pitched her film idea, PNG was in political turmoil, with Michael Somare and Peter O’Neill both claiming to be the legitimate prime minister of the country. Dame Carol broke the deadlock by stepping away from Somare’s party to become leader of a one-woman opposition.
To Fifer, “it seemed like a great story”, even if she also suspected “I’d arrived too late” to record it at its best.
But as they were filming an interview in Port Moresby in May 2012, Dame Carol received a phone call: a shanty settlement on Paga Hill, near the centre of town, was being bulldozed, its 3000 inhabitants were about to be scattered to the winds, and the developer responsible was Australian.
In that moment, a different film was born.
“She said, ‘Do you want to come’, and I didn’t know what to expect but I said ‘yeah’,” Fifer says. “Then this entire scene happened that completely changed everything.”
As Dame Carol strode about Paga Hill trying to convince police to stop what was going on, Fifer kept her camera rolling. Here was a real-life David v Goliath story, with the country’s only female parliamentarian as the unlikely hero of the people. Or so it seemed.
Over the course of the film’s evolution, Dame Carol’s role changed massively. She left the Parliament. She set up a consultancy, and was hired by the Paga Hill Development Corporation, on a contract of $178,000 for three months’ work. And she became determined to prevent Fifer’s footage of her from ever seeing the light of day.
Dame Carol wasn’t the main character in Fifer’s film, but she was a key player, featuring in about 20 minutes of it. In March 2016, she launched legal action in the Supreme Court of NSW demanding those scenes be redacted. She claimed she had never consented to being in such a documentary. The release she signed was merely for a student film, not for something that might be shown commercially. She claimed the film misrepresented her.
Fifer’s film was set to debut at the prestigious Hot Docs festival in Toronto in May 2016. On April 22, Dame Carol was granted a temporary injunction against the inclusion of the footage in which she appeared.
Fifer had a week and a half to recut her film. Where Dame Carol had been, the screen was now black, with a narration read by actress Sarah Snook explaining what was happening, and why. But the day before she was due to fly to Toronto, Fifer was back in court, being ordered to make more tweaks.
“The hard drive was still warm when I took it to the airport the next morning,” she says.
“It was literally a hot doc. We hadn’t even seen it by the time we screened it. My producer, Rebecca Barry, and I were just looking at each other thinking, ‘I hope this works’.”
It did, and in June, the court ruled against Dame Carol’s application for permanent redaction of the footage in which she appeared.
Now, finally, The Opposition is to have its full Australian premiere, on the opening night of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.
It’s been a long and bruising journey for all parties. Joe Moses, the Paga Hill activist who is the real hero of Fifer’s movie, spent a couple of years in hiding but is now in the UK, studying international human rights law. Many of the former residents of Paga Hill are homeless in downtown Port Moresby; those who took the inducements to move are still living in the tents they were told would be temporary. There are 200 of them at a place called Six Mile, says Fifer, under rotting canvas, with one tap and a toilet that doesn’t work properly.
As for Fifer herself, she says after five years on this one she’s in no hurry to race into the next project.
“I don’t want to just launch into another one because I want to make a film – I want to launch into it knowing this is something that needs to exist.”
She wants to put the difficult journey of her film to good use, and is looking for ways to share what she learnt with other documentary makers, if only so they don’t have to go through the same things.
“I feel like I’ve had a bit of an experience with this film. I don’t feel it’s right for me to silo that and move on to the next film, to go, ‘Oh that’s good that I learnt all that, but it’s just for me’.”
It would be fair to say she’s in a cooling-off period, but she insists she hasn’t gone cold.
“I’m up for a good challenge,” she says, smiling wryly. “But maybe a little less of a challenge.”
The Opposition is opening night film at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, which runs May 4-18 in Melbourne, May 23-27 in Sydney, May 29-31 in Canberra, June 1-3 in June and June 1 in Perth and June 2 in Hobart. Details: hraff.org.au
The Post-Courier has reported that Port Moresby Lawyer, Stanley Liria, ‘has put up his hands to challenge Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for the Ialibu-Pangia seat’.
Liria told the Post-Courier:
‘I can no longer stand by and allow the unprecedented levels of mismanagement continue, both within Ialibu-Pangia and across Papua New Guinea as a whole’.
These are strong words, directed at a man, Peter O’Neill, who in fact has championed Stanley Liria’s career, first as a lawyer, then as a real-estate developer.
Is this simply the case of ‘biting the hand that feeds’, or is there more to this political challenge than meets the eye?
Lets review some key facts:
- Liria is a close wantok of the Prime Minister.
- Peter O’Neill helped champion Liria’s legal career, and even launched Liria’s book encouraging MPs to buy it (see ‘additional evidence’ below).
- Liria is the sole shareholder of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Limited (PHDC), a controversial real-estate developer behind the Paga Hill Estate.
In October 2012, there was an international media storm when it was discovered key executives in the project, had been slammed in 3 Commission of Inquiries, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General Reports. Rather than investigate PHDC for ‘corrupt dealings’ (to quote the Public Accounts Committee), in late October 2012 the Prime Minister declared Paga Hill Estate a project of national significance (see below).
- Since 2012 the O’Neill government has agreed to act as a formal partner in the Paga Hill Estate project, offering any investor significant tax breaks.
- Prime Minister O’Neill features in the investor brochure issued by Liria’s company this year. In it O’Neill declares the Paga Hill Estate a ‘key project site’ for APEC 2018.
So how can Liria publicly claim to oppose mismanagement by the O’Neill government, when arguably his real-estate development company is a prime beneficiary of this mismanagement.
Are we getting the full picture?
One theory is that Liria is, in fact, an ally of Prime Minister O’Neill, and is being sent into the Ialibu-Pangia electorate to split the opposition vote. If he can successfully do this, it will ease O’Neill’s return to the throne.
An alternative factual scenario, which is being put forward by PNG Blogs, is that Liria has turned against his former friend and benefactor – and joining forces with a number of senior politicians who want to steal the O’Neill throne.
There is evidence to support this hypothesis:
- Stanley Liria is close friends and has business links with Governor William Powi, who wants to topple the PM.
- Liria is the long-time front-man for the Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur Fridriksson, a man whose businesses have been censured for corruption and other illegal activities in 1 Commission of Inquiry, 4 Public Accounts Committee inquiries and 2 Auditor General reports.
- Peter O’Neill’s close friend and ally, Minister Justin Tkatchenko has accused Fridriksson and PHDC of bankrolling a rival candidate in his seat of Moresby South, to the tune of K1 million. The rivalry between Tkatchenko and Fridriksson goes back to the Bill Skate days, when both were foreign businessmen competing for the profitable affections of Mr Skate.
- Tkatchenko has lobbied for a Commission of Inquiry into the Paga Hill Estate, which if O’Neill enacted could lead to Fridriksson and Liria’s downfall.
- William Duma is a hidden partner in Paga Hill Estate.
So there are two hypotheses:
- Stanley Liria remains a close ally of Peter O’Neill, who has benefited from the PM’s support, and in repayment will help divide the opposition vote, as a fake rival.
- Liria has split from O’Neill, and believes his own business interests, and those of his close associates, will be better served by forming a rival coalition that can take the Prime Ministership from O’Neill.
O’Neill vouches for new law book
Post-Courier, 12 January 2005, page 2
A LOT of parliamentarians do not know much about Papua New Guinea law despite being the country’s lawmakers, Opposition Leader Peter O Neill said yesterday.
Praising Southern Highlands lawyer and author Stanley Liria for writing a book titled A Law Awareness for Papua New Guinea – Our Guide to The Rule of Law, Mr O Neill said he would recommend to his parliament colleagues that they buy the newly published book.
He said the book would help MPs understand the basics of PNG law, which was important as most parliamentarians passed laws without having a sound knowledge of the legal system.
I will try to see if I can get some members of Parliament, as I said many of us don t come from a legal background, we pass laws on the floor of Parliament that we don t sometimes understand, Mr O Neill said.
There is no real explanation before the bills get passed.
A book of this nature will assist us (MPs) in doing so, we will certainly write to each member and see if they are interested in trying to get this book (in order) to understand the workings of the law and the judicial system of the country.
Talking about his first book that took five years to put together, Mr Liria said the title was written in simple English and should attract readers from all walks of life.
He said the book should dispel the perception that only lawyers and law enforcement officers should know about law and would strive to ensure its selling price is kept to a minimum to attract a wide readership.
Mr Liria said the 94-page book would cost between K25 and K30 and people wishing to buy a copy or place orders could contact him on mobile 684 8273 or e-mail email@example.com
Late last year, residents of the Tokara NHC Hostel lost their court action against the National Housing Corporation (NHC), and Aees Real Estate Limited. Evicted residents claimed they had been wrongfully removed from the property. It was also claimed that the sale to Aees Real Estate was illegal.
Justice Hartshorn, a judge known for being unsympathetic to the ‘little’ people, dismissed the proceedings with costs. He argued residents had failed to pursue the case through correct legal procedure.
The short judgement does not disclose the sale price of the NHC property to Aees Real Estate Limited.
However, this sale needs urgent review.
It can be revealed Aees Real Estate Limited’s largest shareholder and Director is Anthony Waira.
Up until the 2007, Waira was the principal legal officer at the National Housing Corporation.
Given that the Public Accounts Committee has found that many NHC properties are being sold off, under value, to private developers, with the proceeds being laundered and stolen – there is a need for vigilance with all NHC transactions.
This is especially the case when the purchaser is the former legal counsel for the NHC.
Has Prime Minister Peter O’Neill finally acted on his promises and ended the SABL land grab and stopped the illegal logging?
It is now 1,386 days since the reports of the SABL Commission Inquiry which detailed the widespread fraud and mismanagement that allowed foreign logging companies to gain illegal access to over 50 thousand square kilometres of land.
Over that time the Prime Minister has made repeated promises to cancel the leases and stop the logging but, for almost four years, nothing has happened, while the logging companies continued to chop down and export logs worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Minister Benny Allen has been quoted saying:
“The Government has taken a blanket cancellation of all special agriculture business leases in the country and as we speak, they are all illegal”.
“I have given directions to acting secretary to write letters to all special agriculture business lease holders, informing them that the leases that they are holding are illegal and no longer in force now. It’s another useless document of no legal value and effect”.
There is, of course, a sting in the tail; the Prime Minister and Minister Allen also say the government will now assist ‘genuine’ investors to acquire a new title to the land they have illegally occupied, using incorporated land groups and land registration. It is not clear which SABL areas this applies to, although the PM has singled out Rimbunan Hijau’s operations in Pomio for praise, despite the strong community opposition to the logging and oil palm operations there.
Silent though has been Logging Minister, Douglas Tomuriesa. Has the Forest Authority stopped all logging in SABL areas and are all the Forest Clearance Authorities being cancelled or withdrawn?
Without any word from the Minister or PNG Forest Authority, the public will be wise to remain skeptical.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has signalled he is backtracking on four-years of promises to cancel the unlawful SABL leases and return land to its customary owners.
Just three weeks ago, the Prime Minister berated the Department of Lands for not carrying out orders to cancel the leases and said the foreigners involved “should be put on a plane and sent back home”.
But, on Friday, the PM endorsed what he now says is the Lands Department’s ‘balanced approach’ and he specifically endorsed Rimbunan Hijau’s logging and oil palm operations in the Pomio District, which he said must be allowed to continue.
Over the past six years RH has exported over 1.2 million cubic metres of logs and netted more than K300 million in income from logging operations on land stolen through three Pomio SABL leases.
The SABL leases were obtained using fraud and forgery and the forests have been logged without the lawful consent of local people. The villagers have been consistently beaten and intimidated by police employed by RH to suppress any dissent.
With more than 6.6 million cubic metres of logs worth over K2 billion stolen from SABL areas across the country, it seems the loggers money is proving irresistible to our political leaders as the election approaches.
A new Transparency International report says Australia is wide open for corrupt elites from overseas, including Papua New Guinea, to launder the proceeds of grand corruption through the Australian real estate market.
“There is clear evidence that such investment in Australian property is an easy and convenient way to hide hundreds of millions of dollars from criminal investigators, tax authorities or others tracking criminal behaviour and the proceeds of crime”.
The report, Doors Wide Open Corruption and Real Estate in Four Key Markets, says Australia has severe deficiencies under all 10 areas identified in the research and is therefore not in line with any of the commitments to tackle corruption and money laundering in real estate made in international forums.
TI says in Australia, real estate agents are not subject to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter- Terrorism Financing Act 2006. Other professionals such as lawyers and accountants who may also play a role in the sector are not covered either. This means that properties can be bought and sold without any due diligence on the parties.
“Currently there are no requirements for real estate agents or any professional involved in real estate deals to submit Suspicious Transaction Report, even if they suspect illegal activity is taking place, and there are no requirements or rules for verifying whether customers are Politically Exposed Persons or their close associates”.