Radio New Zealand
An Australian non government organisation and the government in the Papua New Guinea region of Bougainville are still at loggerheads over the merits of the region’s new mining laws.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government passed the Bougainville Mining Act just before this year’s election and says it is ground breaking legislation, giving landowners control of their resources for the first time.
Jubilee Australia has been highly critical of the law and in a new report called ‘The Devil in the Detail’ has put forward recommendations for changes that it says should be made.
Jubilee Australia’s chief executive Brynnie Goodwill told Don Wiseman the landowners are left with little bargaining power.
BRYNNIE GOODWILL: Deep analysis of the act is that maybe apparently given with one hand is actually undermined with the other. So for example a lot has been said that if landowners don’t want mining it won’t happen on their land. Well landowners actually don’t have a veto on an exploration license they have very little bargaining power because the institutions that are to be set up are all designed essentially to achieve landowner consent. In the end if the land is desired for mining and the government or the company that wants to mine, wants to mine on that land, mining is considered as being a public purpose which allows the government to take the land anyway.
DON WISEMAN: What you would like to see is an independent capable organisation that can stand up for the landowners.
BG: Yes first and foremost these kinds of agreements or major legislation’s should be obtained with free prior informed consent of communities. Especially a legislation of this scope. And communities that would be one way to support communities in there reviewing of legislation like this. To ensure that there is an independent group that can be turned to first in the analysis of this law and making of amendments to ensure that the safeguards are in place and secondly to be available to landowners through the process of its implementation in carrying out.
DW: Right through it you think this ability to veto that supposedly exists for the landowners is extremely weak.
BG: It is not only extremely weak there are very significant penalties were you to oppose mining. For example if anyone if a landowner wants to protest a mining license that has been on their land if they want to have to have it amended and they are not heard interfering with organisations appearing under the act and you know that is essentially protesting draws a penalty of 250 thousand Kina and five years imprisonment.
DW: You have laid out a whole lot of recommendations about the changes necessary. But the ABG, the Autonomous Bougainville Government has said on several occasions that it can be changed there is no problem. Do you see problems in it being changed?
BG: It can be changed if it is changed now, mining is a long haul operation. And actually from the interest with mining companies ironically to get this right. Because I don’t think mining companies want to be looking over their back all the time. Yes the changes can be made harder once leases are accepted that their is reliance by companies on particular provisions of the act. That then the government want to say oh but actually we didn’t mean that, oh but actually we have to change that. This is the time to make those changes before lease applications are granted.
The president of Bougainville, John Momis, says Jubilee Australia’s criticism is untrue and based on faulty research.
JOHN MOMIS: The land owners of Bougainville under the new ABG mining law are the most protected land owners anywhere in the world. No where else you have a legislation that gives them optimum protection. So I don’t know where they have culled this opinion from. They conducted a very superficial so called research with selected groups of people who were quite ignorant and who are not interested in opening the mine. If they follow their recommendation there would be no foreign investor allowed in Bougainville. That is not what we want, we want mining but under very stringent conditions that would secure the best interests of the people of Bougainville and make the mining company to pay up for the damage it has caused but at the same time give them a guarantee that their investment would not be at the risk of being taken away by unjust laws. And jubilee Australia has never had the courtesy to talk to us in ABG the initiators of the mining law.
DON WISEMAN: They say that this veto is very weak and effectively will not work as a veto.
JM: That is also nonsensical no where else in the world do you have the land owners having two veto powers, one at the exploration and the other one at the development stage. The landowners would never allow any mining to proceed without their consent. And the land owners associations were individually set up by the landowners themselves.
DW: Jubilee Australia has suggested that to overcome a series of matters that are not to the benefit of the landowners they think there should be an independent agency with some clout. That can vouch for them that can argue the case against the mining companies and against governments and so on, on behalf of the land owners. What is your response to that?
JM:The landowners associations are quite independent. Landowners associations perhaps right now may not have the capacity but legally they are quite independent. You know this government has nothing but the real interest of the people of Bougainville at heart and at the same time we must recognise that investors who come to invest have capital, expertise and managerial capabilities that the landowners needs must also be protected. If we follow the Jubilee Australia then no investor in the world would ever come to Bougainville.