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