Garnaut tries to defend Lihir record

Lawyers acting for Ross Garnaut have pointed out that on April 5, 2011, the ABC published this addendum to the story below: “In September the ‘7:30 Report’ ran two stories looking at the involvement in mining activities in Papua New Guinea of Professor Ross Garnaut. Professor Garnaut complained about the coverage both publicly and to the ABC claiming it was incorrect and unfair.  An ABC investigation has confirmed that elements of the coverage contained inaccuracies and overall it lacked balance. The ABC apologises to Professor Garnaut, a summary of the findings of the investigation can be found on our program website”.

From ABC Radio

Professor Ross Garnaut, the former chairman of PNG-based mining company Lihir Gold, has delivered a robust defence of the company’s environmental practices.

He claims that a television report last week – which we also ran in full here on Pacific Beat – misrepresented his work in relation to the mining industry in Papua New Guinea.

Professor Garnaut says it amounted to a comprehensive attack on his professional and personal integrity and he’s pointing to a slew of documents defending the Australian-owned company as applying world’s best practice for the site.

We begin by hearing an excerpt of that Lihir Gold report.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts and Canberra Correspondent Linda Mottram
Speaker: Greg Hoy, reporter; Mark Soipang, landowner and former director of Lihir Gold Ltd; Tiffany Nonggorr, Mount Hagen-based lawyer for Madang landowners; Charles Roche, NGO Mineral Policy Institute; Professor Ross Garnaut, Australian economist and former chair Lihir Gold; Charles Lepani, Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia

GREG HOY: No question on little Lihir Island, Ross Garnaut has won support amongst locals.

MARK SOIPANG, LANDOWNER AND FORMER DIRECTOR, LIHIR GOLD LTD (webcast to shareholders, Port Morseby, August 23): LGL has been supportive in ensuring that the environment is looked after, both physical and social, and we also have seen the respect for culture that has been demonstrated under the leadership of the chairman.

TIFFANY NONGGORR: And no one’s actually telling them that there could be problems. Generally it’s banned. It’s banned in China. In Canada, where the practice was first, if you like, invented, it was conducted at some mines but has since been banned. In the United States it’s banned.

CHARLES ROCHE, MINERAL POLICY INSTITUTE: I think it’s enough to say that Professor Garnaut’s made a lot of money out of mining.

COUTTS: Some of the investigative feature on Papua New Guinea’s Lihir Gold run on Australian television, Australia Network and Pacific Beat last week. The producers are standing by the Lihir Gold report, saying there are many who now want to reply to Professor Garnaut’s views.

From Canberra, Linda Mottram reports.

MOTTRAM: Professor Garnaut chose some of the strongest terms to describe his response to the report on ABC television’s daily current affairs program, The 7:30 Report, on the 9th of September.

GARNAUT: It built up an elaborate, negative and false impression of the activities of companies with which I have been or am associated and of my work and character. The piece amounts to a comprehensive attack on my professional and personal integrity.

MOTTRAM: Until the recent completion of the takeover of Lihir Gold by Newcrest, Professor Garnaut was chairman of Lihir, an association dating back to 1995 and the formation of the company. He’s also the nominee Director of the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program, a remediation initiative of BHP Billiton, which also gives Professor Garnaut a position on the board of Ok Tedi Mining Ltd.

The television program targetted Lihir’s practice of submarine tailings disposal quoting Australian NGO, the Minerals Policy Institute, which says its a very controversial method of disposing of waste. The institute said the approach was a lot cheaper than other options and so meant more money for the miner. The program also spoke to Lawyer Tiffany Nonggorr, representing landowners in Madang who are said to be trying to block duplication of Lihir’s environmental approach by other big miners in PNG. She said the Lihir tailings disposal method was banned in China, Canada and the United States but that Lihiris weren’t appropriately informed.

Accusing the company of doing environmental damage, the program also ranged across issues associated with Ok Tedi.

Professor Garnaut said he had referred the reporter concerned to Newcrest with any questions, since he, Professor Garnaut, was no long chairman, and said he’d been given no idea in advance of the kind of story that was being done, though the 7:30 Report says the opposite is the case. Professor Garnaut has also offered up a slew of documents and notes refuting the program’s claims. The wide-ranging defence includes environmental studies and work by Scottish marine experts on the impact of Lihir’s tailings disposal choice. Professor Garnaut.

GARNAUT: On Lihir, the decision to use deep sea tailings placement, DSTP, rather than land-based tailings disposal was taken after careful consideration of the alternatives and close and open consultation with the people who are most closely exposed to the consequences of the choice, the people who live on the Lihir group of islands.

MOTTRAM: Professor Garnaut framed his defence in the wider context of PNG’s development needs.

GARNAUT: There are genuine dilemmas in resources development anywhere, including in poor developing countries. Mining inevitably generates waste and tailings. The disposal of waste and tailings inevitably involves some disruption of the natural environment, as does almost all human economic activity. The important judgements are always about making responsible choices.

MOTTRAM: Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani, robustly supported Professor Garnaut’s long involvement with PNG.

LEPANI: Its been 47 years of this involvement in his life as a researcher, university lecturer in Papua New Guinea, and public policy maker at the initial phases of PNG’s independence. The macro-economic policies that he has established remain today to sustain Papua New Guinea through all the difficulties that we have been having. So it would be totally, for me as a Papua New Guinean and somebody who has known and worked with Ross for a long time, it would be totally unfair for this report to cast any aspersions on the manner of his dealings with Papua New Guinea.

MOTTRAM: Professor Garnaut says he hopes an egregious error will be acknowledged by the program maker. But the 7-30 Report says a number of people are queuing up to respond to Professor Garnaut, among them former PNG Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan, who was recently publicly critical of Lihir.

3 Comments

Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

3 responses to “Garnaut tries to defend Lihir record

  1. dexter bland

    “And no one’s actually telling them that there could be problems.”

    You have to pity the poor Lihirians, no-one’s telling them they could have problems. Fifteen years after the mine started, they seem happy, healthy and increasingly wealthy. If only they knew…

    Its interesting that Tiffany has already moved on from Ramu, to take on Lihir . Business must be a little slow since her clients don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about proceeding with the case.

  2. Ross Garnaut and I worked on the negotiation of the Bougainville and Ok Tedi agreements some 35 years ago, and, as Charles Lepani points out, the policies that we developed then, in the course of those negotiations, and that were subsequently embodied in legislation, were among the most progressive and far-sighted in the world at the time, Ross’s commitment to sensible, sustainable development in PNG is beyond question.

    As he points out, any mineral development project involves difficult choices. If tailings are impounded on land, they create a long-running threat; the dam may break, earthquakes or cyclones may disrupt the impoundment, etc. I was involved, on behalf of the Northern Aboriginal land Council in Australia, in making a similar choice for uranium tailings disposal. There, we agreed to a tailings pond impoundment, with the pond to be filled in after completion of mining. While different from the choice made at Lihir, it was also not an easy choice.

    While the safety of deep-sea disposal is well beyond my own expertise, the one thing I can be sure of is that Ross Garnaut’s involvement in making the decision was not motivated by any concern for short-term personal gain.

  3. Pingback: The Pato that Laid the Golden Eggs « the Masalai blog

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