Still a lot at stake in Bougainville after Rio pulls out

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Luke Fletcher | Jubilee Australia

Last week, Rio Tinto, the parent company of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), dumped its shareholding in BCL, thus exiting from Bougainville and the highly controversial Panguna mine.

As part of Jubilee’s #NotOnMyWatch campaign, we have been closely monitoring Rio’s behaviour in Bougainville, as it negotiated to restart the mine it abandoned in 1989. In 2014 we launched our Voices from Bougainville report, based on a series of interviews conducted in and around the Panguna region.

Some of the people interviewed expressly spoke about Rio’s involvement with the mine:  

“I don’t want Rio Tinto to come back and reopen the mine because right now we are living on the rubbish it created. Our land was destroyed and if it comes back where will we go? …. I fear the company coming back.”
Interview n°43, young adult from Enamira, upper tailings

They say you have to open the mine in order to become economically viable, so that you can say you are independent because you have the financial resources to fund your government to bring the services;
that’s a total lie, after all, even now we are fine.
Interview n°51, young adult from Enamira, upper tailings

How then should we understand Rio’s decision to leave Bougainville? On the one hand it can be viewed as Rio Tinto acknowledging that most landowners in Panguna do not want them operating on their land again, a sentiment our Voices report brought to light.

Yet it has certainly angered the President of Bougainville, Chief John Momis, who has publicly stated, ‘

“It now seems Rio has no commitment to social responsibility or sustainable development principles. It talks those principles only when that helps its profits. But it throws them out when costs to its bottom line could be involved.”

For Jubilee, the move is problematic in many respects. Firstly, Rio has exited from Bougainville without acknowledging its role in precipitating the conflict nor pledging to redress the environmental damage and grievances that the mine caused.

More worrying still, Rio plans to distribute its shares in BCL equally to both the Governments of Bougainville and PNG.  This appears to be causing some panic in Bougainville, a country seeking to determine its own future, without undue influence from PNG. Jubilee fears that by leaving in this way, Rio has potentially sewn the seeds for more unrest on the island.

Jubilee will continue to monitor closely Rio’s exit from Bougainville, and will continue to campaign so that Rio addresses the harm its Panguna operation caused.


1 Comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

One response to “Still a lot at stake in Bougainville after Rio pulls out

  1. Well done Jubilee Australia.
    We wish to inform you of the ridiculous comments made by Peter Quodling (son of the late Paul Quodling, Mining Director of BCL) which are deplorable and completely unacceptable.

    Peter Quodling is the son of the late Paul Quodling who was the Managing Director of Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) for many years.

    Whilst Father John Momis (now the current President of Bougainvile) was “campaigning for the PNG election in 1987, he famously presented a letter to the then BCL managing director, Paul Quodling, that demanded the company give 3 per cent of its gross income to the Bougainville provincial government.

    The request received wide support on Bougainville, but Paul Quodling said it was impossible to meet, adding to tensions that soon exploded on the ground.”

    Paul Quodling included the 1987 letter from Momis in his book, “Bougainville: The Mine and the People” which was published in 1991 in Appendix C.

    According to a book review by Scholarspace at the University of Hawaii at Manoa,
    “Quodling empathizes with Bougainvillean resentments at the inequalities that arose from the project and summarizes data on the adverse social and environmental impact of mining. He says the mine “with its apparently insatiable appetite for land, had traumatic impact on the resident society, who saw land rights being violated…”

    Quodling also states in his book that “any alienation of custom-owned land for such purposes as open-cut mining completely goes against the indigenous social structure”.

    So obviously the late Paul Quodling knew why the rebellion happened on Bougainville.

    And continuing on with Peter Quodling’s ridiculous assumptions…
    The Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) was given millions of dollars from Australia (the taxpayers) to continue its military war against the people of Bougainville hoping to re-open the Panguna mine on Bougainville.
    Australian helicopters were kitted out with machine guns – strafing villages, terrorising everyone on Bougainville. A military blockade stopping journalists, human rights advocates and humanitarian aid or any outside help because the mining company wanted it that way. “Blanket media silence keeps it off the news”.
    Australia was heavily involved in the war on Bougainville through training, equipping and financing of the PNG Defence Force operations on Bougainville.
    So in reality Peter Quodling with an estimate of 15,000 to 20,000 deaths on Bougainville, one can only assume your father is turning in his grave knowing what Bougainville Copper Limited and Rio Tinto did to the people of Bougainville.


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