BY JO CHANDLER
AS DAME CAROL KIDU - the long-serving and lonely female of the 109 member Papua New Guinea Parliament - gave her farewell speech at Tuesday’s final sitting ahead of next month's scheduled election, the nation's burgeoning social media commentariat lit up with tributes.
''Kidu gets applause! Sir Buri Kidu would have been proud of you Dame,'' tweeted Tarurvur - one of PNG's most influential (albeit anonymous) political bloggers - summoning up the revered memory of Dame Carol's long-dead husband, the nation's first national Chief Justice.
''Who would have thought a white woman from QLD would impact PNG as you have?''
Mind you, other tweeters observed that the applause from fellow MPs was a bit muted - perhaps as a result of her passing swipe at some of them having one or two wives too many. The feisty Dame is rarely accused of failing to speak her mind.
Dame Carol was one of two lauded figures on the PNG political landscape farewelled as the Parliament dissolved yesterday - the other was former Prime Minister and noted political reformer Sir Mekere Morauta, who said he was moving aside to make way for a new generation.
Dame Carol's impact on PNG politics goes back 15 years as the Member for Moresby South and a minister under the Somare Government, and includes a raft of social development policy, from provisions recognising the rights of the street traders who make up the informal economy; to laws protecting vulnerable children; to a determined and ultimately thwarted campaign to introduce special measures to usher more women into the Parliament.
With her Women's Bill - which would have introduced 22 reserved seats for women - failing to complete its journey into law in time for this election, the odds are stacked high against a single woman taking a seat when the Haus Tambaran in the capital of Waigani next convenes. Social and political culture - and the money politics which underwrites campaigns - remain formidable obstacles to womens' candidacy.
PNG politics is the poorer for the lack of female influence, Dame Carol argues, with the agendas of critical social indicators - maternal deaths, child health, violence against women - failing to achieve the priority they deserve in the Haus.
Though she has lived in PNG for more than 40 years, arriving as a bride and raising her family according to her husband's tribal tradition, Dame Carol once told the Parliament in championing her Bill that ''I don't pretend to understand the complexities [of PNG culture]. The men were the warriors. But remember, the women were the peacemakers.''
Dame Carol's voice and influence has amplified through the past nine months of volatile political power plays. Distancing herself from the Somare camp to take on the role of Leader of the Opposition (for a while there, the only member of the Opposition), she has repeatedly urged the warring Big Men of PNG politics to be accountable to the Constitution and the citizens as the manouevreing for power deteriorated into dirty and dangerous tactics.
This past week, her fearlessness and commitment were captured on a piece of footage widely shared across PNG.
It shows the 63-year-old grandmother - on Mother's Day - confronting heavily armed police and bulldozers at Paga Hill, a site above Port Moresby where a shanty settlement was being razed in preparation for a controversial hotel development, one where questions loom over process and legitimacy.
''This is not an eviction, it's a demolition,'' she snaps at the police, instructing them to stop the bulldozers and allow the settlers to dismantle their homes themselves. ''I feel sorry for you. You're in the middle of this,'' she says to one officer. ''One day it might be your houses being bulldozed.''