This week, AID/WATCH participated in Good Pitch at the Sydney Opera House, the leading international forum for documentary filmmaking, connecting social justice films with allies and partners to collaborate with to create coalitions and campaigns. AID/WATCH Director, Thulsi Narayanasamy was a panelist for one of the 7 chosen documentaries. AID/WATCH attended the event in support of The Opposition, a film about the Paga Hill Settlement in Papua New Guinea who were forcibly evicted to make way for a multi-million dollar marina and hotel. The legitimacy of the company’s land deal has repeatedly been brought into question and groups in PNG and internationally have condemned the eviction of the community.

Media reports at the time described how 100 police officers backed by bulldozers stormed the settlement on May 12 2012, just as a national court was granting an injunction to stop the demolition.”The police went down there, they were armed, they used their firearms, they aimed their guns and fired them at civilians who were unarmed. They bulldozed properties without allowing the owners to remove their personal possessions,” Dr Kris Lasslett, from the International State Crime Initiative said.

What drew AID/WATCH to The Opposition is the power of this story in bringing a human perspective to our long-standing existing campaign to protect land in the Asia-Pacific region.Land grabs and the ensuing human rights violations often occur under the guise of development. Aid policy and projects can open the way for Australian companies enabling them to acquire land or take on projects overseas. We have many examples of both Australian government and commercial involvement in displacing people from their land either through government funded policies and programs, or investment and land acquisition by Australian companies.

While The Opposition focusses on an urban land grab, land grabs in PNG are rampant, with an estimated 12% of the total land mass having been snatched by companies – mainly from Australia and Malaysia. A recent Commission of Inquiry into Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABL’s) in PNG determined that 75 out of 77 leases were obtained fraudulently by foreign private companies. Despite this, there has been no support from Australia to implement the findings of the commission which foremost recommend that the fraudulent leases be overturned. This issue needs urgent attention.

We hope to use the film as a tool to launch a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the ways Australia is involved in facilitating or undertaking land grabs to continue our longstanding campaign in protection of land in Melanesia.

Our aim will be to lobby for the establishment of an independent ombudsman for the aid program as there is currently no grievance mechanism for communities adversely affected by development projects overseas. The Government is currently pushing for greater involvement by the private sector in aid delivery with no mention of accountability measures. For poor and marginalised communities overseas accountability measures are urgently needed.

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