Opposition to Bougainville's Panguna mine 'higher than media suggest'Published by MAC on 2014-09-16
Source: Guardian, Radio Australia (2014-09-15)
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Opposition to Bougainville's Panguna mine 'higher than media suggest'
Survey, to be launched in Australian parliament, finds ‘near universal' opposition to reopening of Panguna mine
15 September 2014
A survey of Bougainville villagers has revealed strong opposition to the proposed reopening of the mine which was at the centre of the island's decade-long civil war.
Media reports had suggested there was support for the Panguna copper and gold mine as a source of national revenue, with a referendum looming on the island's independence from Papua New Guinea. The mine has been closed since 1989.
The Jubilee Australia research foundation conducted the survey in 10 villages or hamlets around the Panguna mine at the end of 2013, and found "near universal" opposition to the reopening, as well as unhappiness and mistrust of the consultation process.
The mine - majority owned by Rio Tinto's Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL) - has been central to Bougainville's economy since the 1970s, but dissatisfaction with the way it was run and its environmental and social effects escalated into a civil war between 1988 and 1998.
It's estimated as many as 15,000 people died by the time of the 2001 peace agreement, which included a deferred referendum for full independence, scheduled to occur between 2015 and 2020.
The Jubilee report, Voices of Bougainville, found continued resentment and mistrust of the PNG defence forces, Australia and BCL because of their roles in the conflict, and that this has led to mistrust of discussions around reopening the mine.
The report found a "sizable majority" of respondents felt that lasting peace had not been restored, despite an end to the violence. Smaller groups felt the peace process was an initiative to serve the needs of Australia or Papua New Guinea.
Respondents were also "deeply critical" of recent consultations about the mine, which they said had not fully included affected communities and certain demographics such as young people, women and elders.
"Others felt that there had been misleading statements in the media about the enthusiasm of Panguna residents for the mine reopening, and about what the reopening would mean," the report said.
"We've been getting such a strong message from the media, but hearing things on the ground was quite different," Jubilee's chairman, Luke Fletcher, told Guardian Australia.
Fletcher conceded there was always the chance of self-censorship among respondents, and that the surveyed villages still had some connection to the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, but said the research was strong.
"I think we felt that the results are so clear that even if there has been a bit of self-censorship the picture we've got is certainly enough to question the main narrative."
Fletcher suggested particular groups were pushing for an early referendum and this was likely to be linked to discussions around reopening the mine.
"Our feeling is that this urgency is one of the reasons why there is some pressure being placed on landowners to make a decision quickly," Fletcher said. "Once Bougainville gets its independence, Bougainvillians might have more of a say in their future," he said.
"It seems plausible to see the push to get an agreement in before the referendum as a push for certainty, both for people in Bougainville as well as outside interest groups, for example BCL."
The Greens leader, Christine Milne, Labor MP Melissa Parke and independent MP Cathy McGowan will launch the Voices of Bougainville report in parliament next month.
Milne said it was "increasingly apparent" that Australian mining companies were not consulting local communities, that they were "making deals" with governments and that as a result local people had suffered.
"The civil war in Bougainville should really remain very front and centre in people's minds, because there is no doubt that the mine was front and centre to that whole war erupting," she told Guardian Australia.
"It's pretty apparent the local community don't want it, they see the environmental impacts and the social impacts, they don't trust that they would ever see any benefit from the mine, because they haven't in the past."
In August, Rio Tinto announced it would be reviewing its options in BCL after the Bougainville parliament passed a bill stripping the company of seven exploration licenses and its special mining lease for Panguna.
BCL chairman Peter Taylor told the ABC the legislation was confusing and described it as a setback.
"It may be that Rio Tinto decides to pursue its investment, it may not, but I can't speculate."
Bougainville president John Momis said the legislation gave BCL the first right of refusal on the mining licence, but no more.
"If we didn't [cancel the licences], the landowners and the ex-combatants wouldn't have allowed BCL to come back," Momis told ABC.
Report says lots of opposition to Bougainville mining
15 September 2014
A new report on how Bougainvilleans feel about the possible reopening of the giant copper and gold mine on the PNG island says there's much more opposition to it than many people realise.
The report, "Voices of Bougainville (Our land, Our future) was produced by Jubilee Research Australia, in conjunction with the Bismark Ramu Group and the International State Crime Initiative.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Brynnie Goodwill, Jubilee Research Australia