Save the Sepik from mining: learning from the past

Visiting the Sepik River and its people. Photo supplied.

Ken Golding | Echo Net | 21 September 2018

The people of the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea understand the threat to their lives and culture from the Chinese-owned copper and gold mine that is currently being proposed to be built on the Frieda River, a tributary of the headwaters of the Sepik River.

My partner Raine Sharpe, myself and Keith O’Neill have just returned from the remote Sepik River in Papua New Guinea. We were part of the Northern Rivers Folk Choir that responded to invitations from the people of The Sepik to live with them, share their culture and help alert the world to the threat to their lives from the copper and gold mine being proposed.

Rich culture

We were welcomed into their homes, their daily life and their rich and colourful culture. Sepik people are warm, generous, and intelligent with a great sense of humour. They are renowned for the quality of their artistic cultural expression and live an ecologically aware life described by PNG ABC journalist Sean Dorney as ‘affluent subsistence’.

The Sepik River is 1,200 kilometres long and is the largest uncontaminated freshwater system in the Asia Pacific region. Rising in the Central Highlands it winds its serpentine way through mountains, rainforest and wetlands to the ocean. People have lived on the Sepik for many thousands of years.

Poisoned river

The second-largest river in PNG is the Fly River. In the 1970s Australian mining companies built Ok Tedi, a huge copper and gold mine on the river’s headwaters. This mine became the scene of what is now recognised as the biggest ecological disaster in the world.

Discharging 80 million tonnes of contaminated tailings and mining erosion into the river system each year has caused 1,300 square kilometres of the river to be irrevocably damaged. People of the Fly River now suffer serious health problems with their main sources of food and water subjected to heavy-metal poisoning.

No social licence

I’m drawing the comparison between these two magnificent river systems because the mine proposed by the Chinese-owned Australian mining company PanAust that is preparing to build a gold and copper mine on the Sepik river system is as big, if not bigger than, Ok Tedi mine.

The people of the Sepik fear for their future and their way of life. They know about the damage to the Fly River and its people and are deeply fearful that the Freida mine is another Ok Tedi in the making. So far there has been minimal community consultation and the Sepik people consider the mine does not have a social licence to go ahead.

We have a deep sense of shame that an Australian company recklessly inflicted damage on the Fly River and its people.

The Sepik River is the lifeblood of its people. The children of the village we stayed with are healthy and vibrant. Their delight and laughter melted our hearts.

Professor Tim Flannery says he cannot think of a worse place for a copper mine. Surely we cannot allow an ecological disaster to happen again.

Raise awareness

To raise awareness and funds in support of the people of the Sepik we are holding an evening event Tales of the Sepik River in Mullumbimby on Saturday September 29 at 6.30pm.

If you want to know more about this event email raines@australis.net.

If you want to know more about the people of the Sepik, and the Frieda mine, go to Save the Sepik River and its people on Facebook.

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Local Gold Miners Get Raw Deal From Australian Buyer

Jerry Sefe | Post Courier | September 19, 2018

A small scale gold miner in Morobe is now worried that he might not be able to get the sum of money worth his 4.6 kilogram gold given to an Australian gold buyer in 2013.
The miner (named) who is a local from Aseki in Menyamya district told Post-Courier that his gold weighing 4.6kg was given in exchange of payment and business to an international gold buyer named Chris Walker of Brisbane, Australia in 2013, but he has never received his complete payment up until today.
He said it was through the arrangement of PNG National Small Scale Miners Association Incorporation vice president and general secretary Joe Bronston that linked him including 15 other gold owners from various provinces to go into business with Chris Walker.
It is now after six years and he is still waiting for the complete payment of his gold.
He said Mr Walker has also taken 45kg of gold from the other 15 individuals and wanted them to keep topping up the gold until 100kg then he would move his business to Port Moresby and work with them.
“I was only given AUS$10, 000 (PGK 23,489.4) as a spending money according to Mr Walker and his wife Jessica Groff while 1.5kg of the total 4.6kg of gold was going to be my share in the business and rest of the payment was supposed to be given to me later,” the man said.
However nothing turned out the way he expected in the agreement between Mr Walker and him.
A detailed statement from Mr Bronston said he knew Chris Walker and Peter Walker for almost 20 years and have been living together as families in PNG in 1988.
However, Mr Bronston when speaking to Post-Courier described Mr Walker and wife Jessica of Noosa, Queensland as perpetrators despite their close family relationship.
Mr Bronston said one of the most talked about business between them was how to develop alluvial mining in PNG from which in 2010, Mr Walker came up with the plan to introduce PNG Bullion Exchange in PNG.
“I informed various miners in different parts of the country and we agreed to Chris Walkers plan and the first four day meeting was held in Brisbane to achieve the plan of producing 100 kilos of gold so it would give confidence to investors to come to PNG to set up PNG Gold Exchange trade centre” said Mr Bronston.
Mr Bronston said the negotiation with miners to go into business with Mr Walker was agreed by all and the trip was taken care of by Queensland customs Broker Glenys Gardener whom was contracted by Australian Coin and Bullion Exchange in Melbourne.
“I did 18 trips of gold delivery under my PNG Mining Department Export Permit as Geological Sampling to Walker in Brisbane. Meanwhile the gold had a purity rate of 89percent (gold purity), Mr Bronston said.
He said each time he brought the gold to Mr Walker, after confirming weight and genuineness, he then transports the precious metal to the Australian Coin & Bullion Exchange for analysis and sampling, where the gold is then refined to 99.99 gold purity.
“Until 2013 the miners began following up on the establishment of Gold Exchange Trading in Port Moresby as promised. Subsequently this led to the disappearance of the Walkers.
“I told them in one of the gathering of miners in Port Moresby that we must continue to produce and arrive at 100kg of pure gold then the establishment of PNG GOLD Exchange will be announced, by the time the 45kg pure gold was already in Brisbane.
“However I was reported to the detectives at Boroko police station by miners repeatedly by different miners who doubted this work program (100kg gold exchange) as they felt it would drag on”, Mr Bronston said.
He said some of the miners wanted money for their gold, others listened and followed what was said while a few took his families as hostage at one time.
“I stopped delivering when I noticed Mr Walker and his wife Jessica stopped responding to my calls and emails during the tussle.
“I even flew down twice to follow up but still no indication of their presence. They had their address changed and perhaps went into hiding,” he said.
He said the matter was also reported to the Noosa Heads Police station and a complaint was also filed with Detectives Chad Kereama and Jason Brown. The investigation has since taken four years and is still pending.

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Pathway to remedy human rights abuses at Porgera mine identified

A new report commissioned by Barrick Gold has been published on the serious human rights situation at the Porgera mine.

Download In Search of Justice Porgera Gold Mine (6mb)

The report, by California based nonprofit BSR, reveals there is a backlog of more than 940 human rights cases registered, plus other victims who have not yet made their claims known.

The report recommends Barrick needs to make a number of immediate fixes, address longer-term issues, and take preventative action to avoid future harms.

BSR believes that addressing claims at these three levels is the only way to ensure a robust and sustainable approach to remedy.

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Resource Agreements Unfair: Haiveta

Mayur Resources managing director Paul Mulder signing an agreement in 2017 with Gulf Provincial Governor Chris Havieta 

Post Courier | September 18, 2018

GULF Governor Chris Haiveta has told his people that current agreements for oil, gas and forestry were not negotiated in their favour.

Delivering his independence message in Kerema last weekend, Mr Haiveta said he wants all agreements under the UBSA and LBSA re-visited and re-negotiated.

He said he felt his people – the majority resource owners – had been short changed and robbed of their resources.

Mr Haiveta and his people hosted Governor General Sir Bob Dadae over the Independence long weekend.

He said: “Our province recognises that current resource agreements in oil and gas and forestry have not been negotiated in the province’s favour.

“This has meant that essential and strategic infrastructure like ports, towns and roads in the project areas have not been built, leaving the province, Kikori district where the projects are located, particularly to miss out completely.

“Therefore we are moving in this term of parliament to ensure that all these agreements are revisited and they are legally compliable and enforceable by all parties.

“We have resolved the UBSA and LBSA agreements including the Gulf landowners and Provincial Governments benefits from the existing Oil and LNG Pipeline to Caution Bay be re-negotiated.”

He said that for the future, ‘we will ensure that resources agreements are properly negotiated and drafted to include all necessary and possible infrastructure needs for the project areas, including the upcoming LNG, coal mining, limestone, mineral sand mining and timber harvesting’.

Mr Haiveta said: “We are glad the national government has started the process of devolution of powers from Waigani to provinces, and Gulf Province is poised to receive decentralisation of powers soon.

“As a step forward to this, we will be signing the Service Delivery Partnership Agreements soon which will pave the way for a synchronised delivery of services between the two open electorates and the provincial government.”

He said his people have abundant renewable and non renewable natural resources both on the land and in the seas.

“Our sea boundaries encompass an area that is twice our land mass, we have significant marine resources with reef systems such as Pocklington and Eastern Fields that remain unexplored commercially and for tourism.

“We also have the largest prawn fishery in the country which is exploited directly from Port Moresby.

“Our forestry industry composed from Port round logging exports brings little benefit to the province as it is a nationally controlled activity.”

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Futuna rejects seabed exploration and mining

Photo: AFP

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018 

The kingdoms on the French Pacific island of Futuna have ruled out allowing any work related to seabed mining in their waters, saying their stance is final.

The rejection of any further exploration of the seabed was expressed at a meeting in Futuna with French delegates sent to explain the potential of mining rare earths.

The king of Sigave as well as a leader of the kingdom of Alo told local television that any discussion about land matters had to held with the customary leadership and not with the assembly of Wallis and Futuna.

They said they had seen the negative impact of activities in French Polynesia and didn’t want a repeat of them in Wallis and Futuna.

At the beginning of this decade French teams carried out three exploratory missions in the territory’s waters without consulting the local kings who are officially recognised by the French republic and on its payroll.

The traditional leaders’ view of what comprises their domain clashes with the law which grants France the control of its exclusive economic zone.

Five years ago, the French Economic, Social and Environmental Council urged the government to secure resources in the seabed off France’s overseas territories.

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German police clear protesters from ancient forest marked for mining

Police officers are seen in the forest as they prepare to clear the area at the “Hambacher Forst” in Kerpen-Buir near Cologne, Germany, September 13, 2018, where protesters have built a camp with tents and tree houses to stop the clearing of the Hambach forest for a nearby open cast coal mining. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Reuters |15 September, 2018

German riot police cleared environmental activists from tree houses in an ancient forest on Thursday, dismantling a protest camp set up five years ago to block a coal mining project.

Wearing helmets and carrying shields, they used a hydraulic platform mounted on a truck to force activists from the tree houses erected in Hambach forest, west of the city of Cologne.

Officers carried off some of the protesters who were trying to prevent utility RWE from clearing the forest that it bought decades ago to expand mining in the area. Most of the forest has already been chopped down and the activists were trying to save a remaining patch of green.

The activists had asked RWE to delay the logging until a year-end deadline for a commission to submit plans to the government for Germany to give up coal-fired energy.

Germany aims to raise wind and solar power’s share of energy generation from a third now to 65 percent by 2030 to help to cut carbon dioxide emissions and achieve its climate commitments.

Police said measures were being taken to prevent the activists from returning to the site. “After the operation we will monitor people and vehicles trying to come here in order to prevent the reconstruction of what we so painfully dismantled,” said police spokesman Paul Kemen.

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Cooks govt looking at seabed mining interest in Norway

Cook Islands Finance Minister Mark Brown Photo: Phillipa Webb / Cook Islands News

Radio New Zealand | 14 September 2018

The Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown is currently in Norway discussing the possible exploration of seabed minerals in the Cook Islands waters.

The Cook Islands News reports that manganese nodules found in the Cook Islands, lie on the seabed, at depths of more than 5000 metres.

According to initial scientific studies, the nodules were of a very high quality and there is a large quantity on the seabed which could make the nation billions of dollars.

Mr Brown said they would re-advertise the tenders as there had been some new interest in exploring the seabed.

He added that all practices, including exploration and the extraction of the minerals, would have to be done in a manner which was environmentally friendly and did not impact negatively on the Cook Islands.

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