MAC: Mines and Communities

BHP Deal Faces Supreme Court Today in Australia and PNG

Published by MAC on 2001-12-18

HP Deal Faces Supreme Court Today in Australia and PNG

Port Moresby and Sydney, 18 Dec 2001

BHP Billiton has pulled off an extraordinary and unprecedented abuse of the sovereign rights of the Papua New Guinea state to act for its citizens with the recent passing of an Act in the PNG Parliament for the continuation of the Ok Tedi mine.

Today, a constitutional challenge by PNG's first Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, in the PNG Supreme Court is questioning the Ok Tedi Mine Continuation (9th Supplementary Agreement) Act and associated Community Mine Continuation Agreement.

This new legislation provides that "neither the State nor any Government Agency may take, pursue or in any way support Proceedings against a BHP Billiton Party in respect of an Environmental Claim..." and that it "may be pleaded by a BHP Billiton party as an absolute bar and defence..."

"BHP is getting a total legal indemnity against future impacts caused by its Ok Tedi mine, and in so doing has deprived PNG of its sovereign right to protect its citizens", said Geoff Evans, Director, Mineral Policy Institute.

"The new law is also an abuse of the environmental and human rights of mine-affected communities."

At the same time, landowners suffering the impacts of BHP Billiton's Ok Tedi mine are at the Victorian Supreme Court, Australia, seeking to extend an interim injunction to prevent Ok Tedi Mining collecting signatures to an agreement that releases the Ok Tedi mine from its legal liabilities.

The Community Mine Continuation Agreement, which is subject to this injunction, removes the rights of those people living with the impacts of Ok Tedi's mine waste. Under the agreement they forfeit "all and any demands and claims..."

This agreement is a legal document signed by a "person representing or purporting to represent a Community or clan..." This is true even if "there is no express authority for that person to sign ..."

"It is quite clear that people in the Western Province of PNG do not know what they are signing or the implications of this agreement", said Matilda Koma, from the PNG Environmental Watch Group.

"This agreement not only deprives a whole community or clan of their rights, but it is given legal force no matter who signed it on the community's behalf."

"The agreement also deprives future generations of their rights, binding everyone, even those who are not yet born." continued Ms Koma.

"The new law will leave Ok Tedi's environmental and social problems for local people and an impoverished PNG Government to fix up, while BHP Billiton- the world's largest mining corporation- will walk away." concluded Mr Evans.

For more information, the Legislation and Agreement call:

Ms Matilda Koma, PNG Environmental Watch Group from PNG; 323 4480, from overseas; +675 323 4480

Mr Geoff Evans, Mineral Policy Institute, from Australia; 02 9387 5540 or 0418 261 404, from overseas; +61 2 9387 5570 or +61 418 261 404

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