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Parliament kills unpopular environment changes

Rheeney_AlexBY ALEXANDER RHEENEY
PNG Exposed Blog

PRIME MINISTER PETER O’NEILL continued to up his popularity stakes when his government yesterday nullified a law which shielded resource companies from environmental damage lawsuits.

The O’Neill government has revoked the 2010 amendments to PNG’s Environmental Act, which the then Somare government pushed and got parliament to pass to protect the $1.5 billion Chinese-owned Ramu nickel mine.

Thompson Haroquave, environment minister in the O’Neill government, tabled the legislation and was able to get the parliament to vote in favour of the contentious provisions being invalidated.

However, Sir Michael Somare has vowed to review all of the O’Neill administration’s policies and undertakings “when it gets back into office”.

The 2010 amendments by the Somare government were widely criticised and opposed by PNG landowners, who own 97% of land in PNG but following the legislative changes could not sue resource companies for environmental damage.

Civil society in PNG, led by Port Moresby-based advocacy group Act NOW, campaigned against the law and collected over 18,000 signatures in an online petition.

They were later joined by Mr O’Neill’s deputy and then Opposition Leader Belden Namah who said the legislation was not in the “national interest”.

Another MP linked to the Somare government, Ken Fairweather, also quit and moved to the middle benches in protest against the amendments.

The revoking of the controversial law coincides with Mr O’Neill’s announcement of free public health care after a tour of the Port Moresby General Hospital, PNG’s largest government-funded public hospital.

The new health policy as well as the free education policy, which the parliament-elected PM announced last August, has been welcomed by ordinary Papua New Guineans as they battle to overcome some of the region’s worst social indicators.

The amendments' revoking comes a month after the PNG Supreme Court rejected an appeal by landowners to stop the Ramu nickel mine from dumping its waste off the coast of Madang in the north of PNG.

Comments

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Mrs Barbara Short

I am very pleased to hear that Prime Minister O'Neill revoked the 2010 amendments to the PNG Environment Act.

I realize that this has now put the Ramu nickel mine in the position of having to spend more money to create a safe dam for its tailings, as they do for mines in Australia.

I hope Mr O'Neill's government will also look into the way the firm had many Chinese workers given visas to work at the mine doing work that could be done by local Papuan New Guinean people.

I realise that, by his actions, Peter O'Neill has again stood up to the actions of the PNG Supreme Court.

I realise that many writers to this blog stress the independence of the parliament and the judiciary but it appears that they are, at this moment, at loggerheads and are not working well together to solve PNG's current problems.

I feel Peter O'Neill has the better understanding of the problems. But one judge did understand! Don't forget her!

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