Consultation or slick sales pitch?

The deep seabed minerals consultation on the northern group island of Penrhyn.

This is an all too familiar problem in Papua New Guinea…

June Hosking | Cook Island News | February 4, 2019

The deep seabed minerals consultation held in Mauke last week leaves me asking, yet again, ‘what should a consultation look like?’ The dictionary says, in short, ‘A consultation is a meeting to deliberate a matter. Deliberate means to weigh up both sides.’

Therefore, for a real consultation we need to hear both sides. It would have been great, for example, to have heard from a Maori speaking scientist like Dr Teina Rongo on what could go wrong. From where I sat all we got was a slick sales pitch with some question and answer time tacked on the end. But if people don’t really know the issue they don’t have real questions to ask.

Throw in talk of money and the conversation is nicely side-tracked. The majority of time was given to selling the idea of seabed mining and how much money it’ll bring in. It is a sales pitch when one starts talking about what mining will buy for the island. Besides mentioning the possible amount of income, I don’t believe they should be allowed to talk about specific spending, as that is basically bribing for a vote.

Health and education are a required part of government budgeting, whether there is mining or not!

Had it not been for one frustrated person asking for the meeting to head to its advertised purpose – the bill, we may never have touched on it at all. When we did, Paul produced what he hands out at Parliament- a double sided A4 page summary of the 57 page Seabed Minerals Bill.

Apparently many politicians don’t get around to reading the whole document. It angers me that we’re paying politicians to read just two pages and frightens me that they could, without having really checked out the whole bill, make critical decisions affecting our future.

I wouldn’t be surprised if no more than five people on Mauke read the whole bill, so after a whizz through the two pages, the MC decided it was time to say grace for the kai manga. He asked for a shout out on who agreed (no specifics) and wasn’t impressed when I stood up to bring attention to the screen noting ‘questions and answers time’. As you can imagine, that time was extremely brief and then it was all over.

I did make use of Q&A opportunities and was told others had expressed similar concerns, but they weren’t the sorts of things to be in a bill.

They would be in the licensing process. I realise that at this stage we’re talking about exploration, but no one in their right mind is going to pour money into exploration without expecting to gain a mining license if they request it. So I’m looking long-term.

The following are my concerns on environmental aspects:

1.    The precautionary approach has a loophole. It suggests to me that if warning bells ring and it’s not cost-effective to avoid disaster, then you can go ahead anyway. It should say if it’s not cost-effective, then you stop altogether.

2.    What happens if there is a leak? How long will it take to discover a plume of sediment that could be devastating to ocean life higher up the column? Even if the pumps are immediately stopped there will be something like 10km of sediment in the pipe leaking out until the break is found and fixed.

3.    Biodiversity preservation areas must be compulsory so that for every mined area (which will become a desert) an equivalent area is zoned untouchable.

4.    Part 5 of the Bill talks about liability, but what do we do if a big company refuses to accept responsibility or to fix damages, as has happened with TMV’s leaky joints in Raro? Is it possible to require some massive bond up front?

5.    Schedule 2:5 says you have to get additional consent for high-risk activities. If evidence arises that to proceed is likely to cause serious harm to – (a) marine env. (b) safety, health or welfare of persons (c)other existing sea uses. Does it make sense to give consent for serious harm?

6.    Schedule 2:6 discusses dumping. We need to state clearly in black and white that ‘sediment must be returned to its place of origin’.

7.    Point 23 describes the composition of the Committee. There have to be at least seven members. Four of these are politically appointed. Is this right?

Finally, meitaki nui to Gerald McCormack for producing such an easy to read and interesting small book on seabed minerals. I hope this book is compulsory reading for every politician. Our future depends upon your decisions.

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