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Garnaut TV response ‘disproportionate’

BY CHARLES ROCHE

THE MINERAL Policy Institute commends the ABC and journalist Greg Hoy for his investigative report into submarine tailings disposal [STD] in PNG entitled Price of Gold.

Despite the controversial response to the program, it was not the first report or analysis of controversial mining practices being used in PNG, nor was it the first media report to link Lihir Gold to an environmentally destructive waste disposal practice.

Indeed, the Mineral Policy Institute has been raising concerns about Lihir and the use of submarine tailings disposal in PNG for over ten years.

The Institute is willing to acknowledge the value of Professor Garnaut’s work in areas such as mining taxation and climate change. Further we acknowledge that Lihir Gold has a reasonable reputation within PNG.

This does not, however, change the facts about submarine tailings disposal, which remains a controversial and damaging practice.

The Institute sees the rise of STD, especially in countries with poor regulatory regimes, as a direct result of the failure to properly evaluate the impacts of mining on people or the environment.

Furthermore, we do not believe that companies should benefit financially from using lower cost but harmful waste management practices.

The response to the Price of Gold should be examined in light of events earlier this year, where the politically and economically dominant mining industry initiated an advertising campaign in response to the super profits tax.

What we learned from that was just how powerful the mining industry has become. Seeking to introduce a new tax or daring to criticise a mining company is a very brave act, especially when the company, through its chair, has the ear of the Australian government and media.

In this case, the response to the Price of Gold was disproportionate, with a press conference called to defend reputation and the practice of submarine tailings disposal.

Outside major industry and political figures it is rare that an individual would be afforded such an opportunity.

It is obvious that not only did Professor Garnaut’s involvement add an extra dimension to the story, it was through his significant public profile that he was able to publicly criticise a television program he had declined to be involved in.

It is unfortunate that Professor Garnaut declined the opportunity to be part of the Price of Gold, which would have allowed a more thorough examination of Lihir’s mine waste management practices.

The Mineral Policy Institute will continue to keep an eye on mining by holding to account the boards and management of Australian companies involved in social and environmentally destructive practices in developing countries.

Charles Roche is Executive Director of the Mineral Policy Institute: www.mpi.org.au

Comments

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Reginald Renagi

Charles - I agree we need to be more proactive and aggressively post a lot of your comments on such PNG blogs as Effrey Dademo's blog ACT NOW!, Malum Nalu and others that are listed on the PNG- related links in PNG Attitude.

You may also post on some Australian and international sites that specialise in this sort of community advocacy related to the extractive industry.

What is happening in PNG needs to be exposed so the government can do the right thing by its people and country.

Charles Roche [Mineral Policy Institute]

I too would like a major media focus on the environmental and social impacts of submarine tailings disposal.

Though, in this case, Professor Garnaut was a big part of the story which was sparked by the sale of Lihir Gold to Newcrest.

Over recent years, Professor Garnaut has become a nationally significant political commentator, especially on, but not limited to, tax and climate change.

If you haven't noticed the rise and rise of Garnaut - then do a quick Google.

A significant part of the basis for the ABC 7.30 Report story was the difference between Garnaut's progressive work on tax and climate change compared to the use of submarine tailings disposal [STD] at Lihir Island.

Hence my comments aimed at holding Garnaut responsible for the actions of the mining company he chaired.

Professor Garnaut is the well paid long-term chair of Lihir Gold, if he cannot be held to account then who can?

Australia has become so dominated by mining, it seems we are prepared to accept almost any impact as long as we get 'economic development'.

Australia and PNG would be better places if people in positions of influence, like Garnaut, were prepared to challenge and reform the mining industry.

Selected quotes from scientists can tell different, if not opposite, stories. In this case I gave greater weight to the peer reviewed articles rather the company reports.

Further I am informed by and supportive of Dr Gregg Brunskill, who clearly stated his position on the 7.30 Report.

I think there were better quotes [thanks Dexter for realising that I don't get to choose], it's the journalist telling the story.

I prefer this quote. "There's a critical credibility issue here and not just for Ross Garnaut. Submarine tailings disposal is a very controversial method of disposing of waste.

"And I think it's controversial, not just for the mining companies but also for the banks and, in this case, it's the ANZ and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia who are actually supporting the companies that are involved in these practices in PNG." This identifies other organisations supporting STD.

It was Garnaut who chose to align his credibility with STD. I wish he had agreed to an interview.

Maybe he was just naive, but it was a mistake to think that he could evade the controversy over STD that is raging in PNG at the moment.

So how do we get a debate going about the impacts of mining and the activities of Australian mining companies overseas?

Alex Harris

Dexter - In an earlier post you asked if I had the Misima data from SAMS referenced.

I have finally put an article together. Keith will add something to site shortly I believe.

Reginald Renagi

Too true, Phil. This is where the PNG political and government leadership can not just coast and sit on the fence.

They must show they have the guts to hold these foreign developers to account under stringent world's best practice standards.

Phil Fitzpatrick

It's interesting that the other side of the PNG corruption coin makes the country a good investment opportunity because expatriate businessmen can get away with blue murder - like pumping tailings out to sea or into rivers.

I would have thought that a company trumpeting its environmental record, like those in which Ross Garnaut is involved, would have taken a more ethical approach and taken on the extra cost of dealing with tailings in a proper manner.

It's the old story, the mighty dollar always takes precedence.

Reginald Renagi

Great comments by Charles Roche, the Executive Director of the Mineral Policy Institute.

I am now very much relieved for my country to hear that his organisation, the Mineral Policy Institute "will continue to keep an eye on mining by holding to account the boards and management of Australian companies involved in social and environmentally destructive practices in developing countries".

This should make the PNG government and all future governments take note that what they do will now be under the microscope of good credible organisation like the Mineral Policy Institute.

It should now also make PM Somare and future PNG governments get serious about setting up its own credible oversight policies and strategies to ensure what we do in mining is sustainable for our country as far as the extractive industry is concerned.

Dexter Bland

I thought calling a press conference was exactly proportionate.

Rather than being a balanced debate on various PNG mining issues, the show appeared to be a personal attack on Ross Garnaut, probably for the purpose of giving it some spice for Australian audiences.

Ross didn't appear because he (rightly) felt it was no longer his role to represent Lihir. There are plenty of others they could have interviewed - the Newcrest chairman, MCC, the MRA, or other Ramu defendants, Somare, Greg Anderson, Alan Breen etc?

Of course they didn't bother, because then they wouldn't be able to label a prominent Australian public figure a hypocrite, which was the real purpose of the show.

Charles, some of your own comments made on the show were, quite frankly, vacuous sound bites:

"I think it's enough to say that Professor Garnaut's made a lot of money out of mining."

"Unfortunately, Professor Garnaut's efforts on mining impacts and reform have been paltry, and really if he'd done half as much on mining reform we wouldn't have anywhere near the problems we have today."

Perhaps you had said more substantial things in interview that weren't shown, but this is how it came across to viewers.

Charles, you write: "The Institute sees the rise of STD, especially in countries with poor regulatory regimes, as a direct result of the failure to properly evaluate the impacts of mining on people or the environment. "

Ross has said he has volumes of data produced by their environmental monitoring over the years, as well as the evaluations of different methods of tailings disposal they undertook prior to mining.

Have you looked at this information and formed a view based on this evidence, or is this just your gut feel?

Ross eventually got to make the point that no mining is without environmental consequence, but also that it brings significant economic benefits.

Clearly people differ in where to draw the right balance, but framing things in such black and white terms, and targeting one individual, does nothing to help the debate.

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