MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Asia-Pacific update

Published by MAC on 2007-02-13


Asia-Pacific update

13th Feburary 2007

An APEC meeting in Australia has set out plans to promote cross-border cooperation within the Asia-Pacific region, in order to liberalise mining investment even further.

The behest to observe "responsible" use and disposal of mining/mined materials has been tacked on to the APEC proposal (of course!) - although the Australian government claims its own companies don't need to be so disciplined: they're good enough.

This risible proposition has been undermined by a statement from three leading human rights and mining "watchdogs."

And Australian NGOs are furious at UK-Swiss Xstrata's proposal to destroy Aboriginal sacred sites.


Human rights groups and mining watchdogs call for immediate ban on waste dumping into rivers and oceans

Oxfam Australia, Mineral Policy Institute and Mining Watch Canada

Media release

13th February 2006

Australian, Canadian and US mining companies that persist in dumping billions of tonnes of toxic heavy metals such as mercury and lead into the rivers and oceans of some of the world’s poorest countries are causing irreversible environmental damage as well as driving human overty. This warning by a coalition of human rights groups and mining watchdogs s mining ministers from the Asia-Pacific gather in Perth this week for a summit.

Andrew Hewett, Executive Director of Oxfam Australia, a spokesperson or the group, is calling for the mining industry to cease the practice mmediately. ‘Just as in Australia, people in developing countries epend on clean waterways to live and work. But in countries such as the hilippines, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia they are being polluted at an alarming rate by the senseless and selfish acts of mining companies who ride rough shod over the rights of Indigenous people, condemning them to a life of poverty and human suffering.’

Back home though the multinational mining companies of Australia, anada and the United States are not permitted to dump waste into rivers and ceans as their respective governments have effectively outlawed the ractice – a point not lost on the coalition, which argues a good corporate citizen should use the most protective environmental practices at home as well as overseas.

The group draws attention to the devastating mine waste dumping practices of Ok Tedi, Tolukuma, Porgera and Freeport * mines all of which have connections to Australian mining companies. For example, Brisbane based Emperor Mines wholly owns and operates the Tolukuma mining operation in Papua New Guinea, which spews out 160,000 tonnes of waste into the local river system each and every year. Emperor also has a 20 per cent share in another PNG mining operation, Porgera, which dumps 40,000 tonnes of waste in the local river a day – that’s 14.6 million tonnes a year.

‘It is not acceptable for Australian mining company Emperor to dump tens of millions of tones of toxic waste each and every day in river systems because the local law allows it. Emperor is an Australian company that should strive to uphold the highest possible business practices as well as ethical standards of behaviour wherever it operates,’ Mr Hewett said.

The mining sector argues water-based toxic disposal is sometimes the best method of eliminating mining waste as it is less expensive than land-based waste disposal. But less expensive for whom, asks the coalition? ‘Should vulnerable communities and the environment shoulder the cost of the hugely destructive dumping practices of irresponsible mining companies or should it be wealthy corporate executives and their shareholders? The industry as a matter of urgency must implement more acceptable solutions to the issue of waste management,’ said Techa Beaumont of Mineral Policy Institute.

The coalition says that if the mining sector cannot be trusted to act responsibly and declare a voluntary end to toxic waste dumping then governments should legislate to protect the environment as well as vulnerable communities. One way to do this is through nationally mandated social and environmental standards which, for example, can apply to Australian mining companies operating overseas. ‘This would be particularly effective where local governments do not provide adequate safeguards to protect people and the environment,' said Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada.

The safe disposal of mine waste is the single largest environmentalchallenge facing the mining sector worldwide. ‘The dumping of mine waste in rivers and oceans is causing unprecedented damage. Mine related pollution from the OK Tedi mine has already reached Australian borders causing higher than acceptable levels of copper in some food sources of Torres Strait Islanders,’ Ms Beaumont said.

For the sake of vulnerable communities and their fragile environments it is time an adequate solution was found. ‘We believe mining companies have the potential to contribute to local development and poverty alleviation.

To do so they must take a firm stand against practices that cause environmental degradation, rob people of livelihoods and drive poverty,’ added Ms Coumans.

To mark the start of the APEC Mining Ministerial in Perth, Oxfam Australia will screen the documentary, ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mined,’ exposing the tragic legacy of mining on Marinduque Island in the Philippines.

It is part of an Australia-wide ‘Not In Anyone’s Backyard’ speaker tour of international human rights campaigners and mining watchdog experts.

[* Editorial note: Although not referred to in this statement, Newmont of the US is the biggest employer of "submarine tailings disposal" followed by Lihir Gold Ltd of Australia The latter was managed by Rio Tinto until 2005; its major shareholders are currently NWQ Investment Management Company, Nuveen Investments and Merill Lynch Investment Managers. Rio Tinto also holds 40 per cent of a joint venture partnership with Freeport at the Grasberg mine in West Papua.]


APEC tackles cross-border barriers to mining investment

The Australian

10th February 2007

A TOP-LEVEL meeting in Perth next week will attempt to remove cross-border barriers to mining investment as part of a bid to ensure sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific.

The first of the year's Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum ministerial meetings in Australia has attracted around 15 ministerial representatives from the 21 APEC member countries.

APEC is the only inter-governmental grouping in the world operating on the basis of non-binding commitments, open dialogue and equal respect for the views of all participants.

The third Ministers Responsible for Mining Meeting (MRM3) is aimed at building on previous discussions in Korea and Chile to strengthen the mining sector.

The APEC secretariat says MRM3 provides ministers with the chance to discuss challenges arising for producer and consumer economies from the rising demand for minerals and metals globally, and the development of new technologies and applications requiring new material.

The Perth conference will also hear from top industry executives from around the world, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, Xstrata and Peabody Energy, as well as representatives of non-government organisations critical of the mining sector.

Altogether more than 300 delegates are expected to attend.

Australia's delegation will be led by Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, who will chair the meeting. Ministers will consider ways to remove behind-the-border measures that stifle and distort trade in minerals.

They will be aiming to introduce further regulatory reform, improve transparency and strengthen the capacity of government institutions to reduce cross-border trade and investment barriers in the minerals sector. They will also look at increasing technical co-operation to strengthen the minerals sector in all economies, to promote trade and create employment.

With environmental issues of major concern globally, ministers will also continue to discuss ways of ensuring mining materials are mined, used and disposed of responsibly.


Aust has 'high' mining standards

AAP

13th February 2007

FEDERAL Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane says Australian companies operating overseas adopt the highest standards and legislation is not required to make them conform to Australian practices.

Mr Macfarlane was addressing concerns by some non-government organisations that allege Australian companies are not adopting the same high standards when the operate outside of Australia.

"Australia sets the highest mining standards in the world and the companies that operate here are required to meet those standards both in environment and workplace health and safety,'' Mr Macfarlane said.

Mr Macfarlane is in Perth for a meeting of mining ministers and senior officials from Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations to discuss how to maintain their cooperation on mining.

"Each individual country in the APEC region sets its own standards and that is its sovereign right ... if they wish to change those standards and improve them then Australia is happy, through the APEC process or through a bilateral process, to assist those countries,'' he said.

"It is important that Australia and the APEC countries work towards the issues of mining sustainability ... those standards are enforced in Australia and we are happy to share that technology with our friends in Australia.''

Mr Macfarlane said it was unnecessary for APEC as a whole to sign up to the global mining initiative that requires companies to act on the same practices wherever they operate in the world.

"That is up to individual countries, individual countries set their own laws,'' he said.

"Part of APEC is to work with each other to make sure we improve the sustainability of the mining industry and that is what this meeting is about.''

Aid group Oxfam says Mr Macfarlane has effectively given a green light to Australian companies operating overseas to pollute rivers and oceans.

Oxfam, which campaigns against illegal dumping in impoverished countries, says Mr Macfarlane is turning a blind eye to what companies do in developing nations.

Mr Macfarlane said at an APEC mining conference yesterday that Australia expected all APEC countries to set their own guidelines for companies that operated within their borders.

"Australia respects the sovereign rights of every member country of APEC to set its own rules,'' he said.

Nations taking part in the Perth meetings include some of the world's biggest mineral producers, including Australia, Canada, Peru, Chile and the US. Oxfam Australia said Mr Macfarlane's comments were disingenuous at best.

"The federal government is well aware that the environmental protection laws of countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and The Philippines where Australian miners operate are much less regulated than at home,'' Oxfam Australia executive director Andrew Hewitt said in a statement.

"The Australian sense of fair-go appears not to extend to some of our poorest neighbours.

"Lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by the unsafe practices of Australian mining companies who dump toxic waste into rivers and oceans just because the local law allows it.''

Mr Hewitt said Oxfam believed Australian companies involved in mining operations could contribute to local development and poverty alleviation.

"But to do so they must take a firm stand against practices that cause environmental degradation, rob people of livelihoods and drive poverty.''


PROTEST ACTION GROWS OVER XSTRATA's PROPOSAL TO DESTROY SACRED SITES AT MCARTHUR RIVER

MEDIA RELEASE

13th February 2007

Protests over the controversial proposal to divert the McArthur River, risking environmental damage downstream and destroying important Aboriginal scared sites reached the Sydney head offices of Xstrata today.

The Australian Student Environment Network is staging an action to present Xstrata with demands to halt construction of the mining operation.

The company has proposed an expansion of its underground zinc and lead mine into an open cut operation that would divert 5km of the tropical McArthur River.

NGOs and Indigenous rights advocates have called for an immediate halt to construction until the Supreme court decides a case brought by the Northern land council for traditional owners against the company

"The company must halt construction of the new open cut mine until it resolves the grave environmental, social and cultural concerns held by the Aboriginal traditional owners and environment groups over the proposal," stated Techa Beaumont of the Mineral Policy Institute

The Australian Student Environment Network, a network of over 1000 students across Australia has warned that construction and operation of the controversial open cut mine without resolving the opposition of traditional owners will face ongoing protest action and mobilizations.

In July 2006 traditional owners from the Borrolola Region, the Yanuwa, Guradanji, Garawa, and Mara people, representing the four tribes from the area held a meeting in which they expressed united opposition to the diversion of the McArthur River, Barny Creek and Surprise Creek.

Harry Lansent, a senior Gurdanji traditional owner says 'the open cut project will damage the tail of the rainbow serpent" The company has also been criticised for failing to consult with traditional owners, refusing to speak to a liaison group of all four clans together.

Traditional owners and environment groups remain concerns about the environmental impact of the open cut proposal, including erosion of the river bed, pollution in the Gulf and Port McArthur area and the spread of contaminants by flooding.

Techa Beaumont: Mineral Policy Institute 0428 970 434 Nicky Ison: Australian Student Environment Network 0423 717 567 Charles Roche, Environment Centre Northern Territory 0448 887 303

 

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