Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand
Voices of Bougainville lays out the concerns of villagers from around the Panguna mine to any return to large scale mining
A new report says the villagers living around the Panguna mine in Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville want the Government to consider other options to mining.
The ABG has its hopes set on a resumption of mining, especially a re-opening of the huge Panguna mine, to kick start the economy ahead of the vote on possible independence due by 2020.
It has passed new legislation to give greater control of resources to local communities, but the NGO, Jubilee Australia, says mining is a long way from being viewed positively in Panguna communities.
In an extensive report, called Voices of Bougainville, the Australian based research and reform advocate says the people remain adamantly opposed to the Panguna mine opening any time soon.
Its chief executive, Brynnie Goodwill, says 17 years after fighting ended the people in villages in Panguna remain stressed and traumatised.
BRYNNIE GOODWILL: These issues still need addressing, certainly the issues prevailing since the war regarding the responsibility of Bougainville Copper Ltd, the PNG Government and Australia government in that war which has not been addressed.
DON WISEMAN: Now the government though, the Autonomous Bougainville Government, wants mining. It sees mining as the solution in terms of having an economy that’s starting to become viable by the time it gets to the period where it’s got to have its vote on possible independence. I don’t think they anticipate mining itself happening, but it’s the preliminary work getting underway and bringing money into the economy. But the people of Panguna say that’s not on?
BG: Let me just say straight away, Jubilee has no opinion one way or the other. It’s not really our business, it’s the community’s business to drive what is the appropriate form forward. I could understand why it would be easy for a government to think that this would be a quick solution or a good solution. I think that what has been loudly said by the Panguna communities is that other opportunities need to be explored that are alternatives to mining or potentially other ways of doing mining, smaller scale mining. All of these issues are concerns by people that have not been investigated, that the promises of large scale mining, certainly historically, have not been delivered. And I think there is grave concern too about what this might mean in terms of disruption of communities, what mining may look like in the 20-teens as opposed to the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It’s a very different kind of operation than the kind of operation that happened before.
DW: It’s presumably going to be a whole lot cleaner and a whole lot more transparent about just what is going on. We also know that the local people will benefit more. At least this is how the government sees it. But that’s not going to satisfy the people.
BG: Not sure just about the cleaner etc., I think there’s concern that there would be very little employment locally, I think that there’s a feeling that it would be almost like a locked community, I think with other projects in PNG they come with security forces. I’m not saying that this is what’s happening but I know these concerns have been raised. So I don’t think there’s enough knowledge and understanding about what actually this mining operation would involve. This is what has been picked up in the report. There is grave concern that it could only lead to more disruption for the community and more violence. So I think what the Pangunan communities are saying is that many more issues need to be addressed first and foremost and many more discussions have to be had so that there’s not the feeling that is pervading that again the appropriate discussions have not been had about the real issues.
DW: Would they ever agree to mining do you think?
BG: Oh gosh (laughs), how long is a piece of string. Currently there is near unanimity among the Pangunans that they do not want mining in their region. And there’s even been calls for ecotourism to show what mining looks like. That hole is 4km long, and 2km wide and half a km deep. I can’t speak for the Pangunan community, that would be wrong. And I don’t know, after issues of reconciliation, and some of the other calls that have been asked for in terms of accountability, whether there would be any shift, that’s something that’s way beyond my understanding and I wouldn’t project an answer on that.
DW: We’ve known for a long time about the traumas experienced in the war and we know as well that significant efforts are being made to try and help people, but is enough being done in this area?
BG: I think that there’s strong issues again of trauma that have to be addressed, there have been some aspects of reconciliation of Bougainvilleans among Bougainvilleans, Panguna has still been closed off, so those efforts have not reached people in Panguna and again it has not gone beyond Bougainvilleans. So it’s not been a case where the company has stepped forward or either government of Australia or PNG according to the Pangunans who were on the ground, have deep understanding of what occurred during the war and what occurred has not been acknowledged publicly.
DW: The report, voices of Bougainville, it’s very comprehensive, it must have taken quite a while to put together, and there are a lot of people involved it would seem.
BG: Yes, well we had researchers on the ground who walked lots and lots and lots of kilometres to reach the different villages and then there was a strong research team that was involved and after those interviews were translated from languages into English then the information was compiled in such a way. And there is a group of academics and experts internationally who have been working with Jubilee on the project.
DW: The implication there being that the government and the work it has been doing, it’s been doing consultation, but their consultation has not been as thorough.
BG: Look I think consultation is a very important topic. I think the tricky thing about consultation what we found is that in this report 65 people were interviewed individually and one group insisted on staying together and it was done in a group of 17. From our research in Panguna, people are hesitant to speak out from our understanding about some of our information forums. One Bougainvillean commented to us that it seemed that there were certain questions that were asked and there wasn’t a formula to depart from. So with all respect to consultation processes, and they are quite complex, this report was very locally driven in the sense that there wasn’t an expectation, there wasn’t a format imposed, there were questions that were asked, but there was an opportunity for people individually interviewed to weave and discuss and raise issues that they wanted to raise. I wasn’t a part of the other consultations but I think there is suspicion, especially because there hasn’t been this process of reconciliation, that if the Australian government were involved in the consultation process but has not yet essentially come clean in terms of what again locals have advised, that there is suspicion about their role completely and this whole process. So with that perception, it’s awkward for people to speak up or to be able to drive their own outcomes in a process consultation.