Exxon Mobil in PNG: Shady stories at the Holiday Inn
Corruption in PNG: curse of the rent seekers

Wouldn't PNG be a better place without mining?


I'M NOT SURE that Papua New Guinea really needs the LNG Project, or the Ramu nickel mine for that matter.

In fact, it probably could have done without Ok Tedi, Porgera and Hides (not to mention Panguna). I can understand the need for a large mineral resource base in Australia because nearly everyone works for wages and jobs are extremely important.

Papua New Guinea is not yet primarily a wage-based society.  Estimates vary but I believe something like 85% of the population are still reasonably happy subsistence farmers.

Australia has a vast land mass, much of it extremely arid.  This is used to run hard-hoofed stock like sheep and cattle, which create massive environmental damage.  Dropping the odd mine or two into this scenario hardly makes any difference.

In fact, in places like Olympic Dam and Prominent Hill in South Australia, where I was brought up and worked for a long time, the mining companies have acquired pastoral leases and introduced no or minimal and closely-controlled stock numbers. 

Areas north of Olympic Dam, which have been de-stocked for a while now, look magnificent, just like a desert environment should look.

The PNG government has never been able to capitalise on its mineral wealth, least of all spreading the benefits to the ordinary people.  It is questionable whether it will be able to achieve this with the LNG Project.

The bulk of the cash will go overseas to the USA and the royalties will be frittered away or end up in the pockets of a few people.  Meanwhile, the local landholders will be left with a devastated and alienated landscape - witness Ok Tedi. The ordinary people will not get jobs out of it.  Once the construction is complete there will only be a few hundred up for grabs.

But do the local people really need jobs anyway?  They've managed to feed themselves and live reasonably comfortable lives so far without much trouble.  Clan warfare and sorcery have actually increased dramatically through development, so they won't lose out there either.  Wouldn't it be better if they just made a bit of money selling their agricultural products?

And wouldn't the government be better off concentrating on getting basic services to the people rather than spending its budget beefing up the army so it can protect the miners?

PNG is not a large country and its needs are modest.  A viable agricultural sector, sustained fishing and carefully and a sustainably managed timber industry with a few small to medium sized mines operating in an environmentally friendly way are all that are needed.  New Zealand is very much like that and seems to get on fine.

So why is everyone busting a gut to dig everything up and sell it to the Chinese and Americans?  It doesn't make sense.

I doubt whether developments like the LNG Project will be the goose that lays the golden egg and, if it is, someone else will eat the egg.

Sometimes the universal mantra of development at all costs just doesn't make sense.  Especially in places blessed with so much else, like Papua New Guinea.


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Harry Topham

If one has regard to the future sitdaun of PNG, one needs to look no further than the sorry state a fellow neighbour in the Pacific, Nauru, now faces itself.

With the previous abundance of natural resources fully depleted and what remains being nothing more than a raped and despoiled landscape which offers little natural resources to feed its citizens.

The result a deculturised society fully dependant on a cash economy but unfortunately lacking any resources available to sustain the new lifestyle and lacking any desire to strive for self sufficiency.

In Nauru’s case the citizens had little hope of preventing the eventual catastrophe as the later events occurred in colonial times where the colonist had scarce regard for those indigenous people residing there.

Strange really that the original outsider who first discovered this tiny island gave it the title “Pleasant Island”.

Papua New Guinea has the opportunity to avoid the similar pitfalls befalling Nauru if its citizens take the appropriate affirmative action needed.

John Fowke

I agree with Phil to an extent and in principle.

Even though a subsistence existence in a remote village bereft of road access but possessing mobile telephones and entrepreneurs with portable gensets who show videos is not a satisfying one for the young and middle-aged.

Quite aside from the situation in PNG, I often ponder that existing in Australia. Possessed of the power to grant or to deny exploration/exploitation licences to the universally greedy, why does the Australian parliament not conserve wisely with future centuries and populations in mind?

Yes to wisely-budgeted government income including employment-related income,from extractive industires. But everything in our history warns us against greed.

The wise farmer doesnt overgrase his paddocks, nor overcultivate and overcrop his tillage. Subsistence farmers know this as its essential for the continuance of such a society.

But in PNG, even though they are the majority, they have almost no influence or control over their nation. And that also means that they are denied by greed of their entitlement to equity in the common wealth of their land.

Ganjiki D Wayne


Alex Harris

A ridiculous situation indeed. With you Phil and all before me.

Tim Ashton

As very much a latecomer to the PNG scene I am totally bewildered by the abandonment of traditional leadership (elders and chiefs) in favour of a Westminster form of government and following on from that the rush to exploit the mineral resources.

A more measured development based upon the villages exploiting agriculture, fishing and tourism would provide Melanesian society with a much more stable sociological base to integrate in the future with western economies.

I might sound like Karl Marx, but economies that are grown from the ground up have far more to offer societies that rely upon the trickle down effect.

Henry Thomas

I would have liked mining and the lng project to happen at least 30-50 years or even 100 years from now in our country.

Perhaps in that time PNGias would:

- be less inclined to fall into corrupt practices,

- have the mentality, behaviour and strength that corruption is totally unacceptable

- have government institutions that are stronger and leaner in the processes, audits and implementation

- have politicians who are more mature and not "in it for themselves"

- have learnt so much from other projects not only within the country but outside of the country.

- have environmental laws and watchdogs to be strong and benefit equally the people.

Simon Kenema

In my view the real question pertaining to natural resource extraction isn't about where or how PNG would be today with or without mining or hydrocarbon development.

Hindsight and retrospective pondering is a wonderful thing, but that in itself doesn't tell us much.

I have come to view that what is happening to PNG and indeed other remote third world communities that host resource development projects is a direct result of the kind of global society humanity as a whole has evolved into.

We have evolved into a society where whether anyone of us cares to admit or not someone's backyard is going to be turned into a moonscape to feed this leviathan called modernity to keep its cogs in perpetual motion.

I wonder if any of us blink for a moment in the midst of rattling the keyboards of our laptops and PCs just what the components are manufactured from.

Or take the cellphone, the car, the plane, medical equipment, and the modular apparatus of modern institutions and establishment that consume vast quantities of natural resource inputs at whatever level of the natural resource commodity chain to keep their form operational as but a few examples.

From which hole and at whose cost do we enjoy many of the social comforts modernity has to offer?

It’s true that many PNGeans do not have access to these things but whether this will remain the same for the next 50 years remains a moot point.

In my opinion real changes will occur only when those societies that occupy the apex in the natural resource commodity food chain, and to a lesser extent host nations like PNG start asking real questions.

Otherwise everything remains business as usual...

Michael Dom

With you, Phil. I've always wondered why we are in such a rush to 'develop our resources'.

I've looked at PNG Vision 2050 upside down and I still can't see how the mineral resource sector is going to save the country, because the plan makes one fatal assumption - that our culture of corruption will cease. Not likely!

It is not improbable that we can continue produce more than enough food to feed ourselves, as we have done for millenia.

Our villagers know this, although other pressures have also been placed on this local food production system, it reamains quite resilient.

That may be why villagers in mining areas willingly go on strike, create road blocks and riot to shut down mines, because they trust that they can continue to live the way have, growing their own food.

They don't need the mine to survive, although they appreciate the extra cash. They don't get 'development benefits' direct or indirect from the resource projects, although their bigmen receive the wealth and they thereby feel eleveated to have the 'resource royalty' in their tribes.

Such village people, the survivors, don't really care any at least not at a collective level, not sufficient to be a political force.

Their group think is still that of gaining enough for individual benefit, and of course the 'chiefs' get the biggest slice of the pie, everyone else aligns with him and if you try go against this, you're d-e-d, ded - without the a to make it quicker!

The resource development does not benefit the simple villagers, their lives as they see it will go on without all the so called 'benefits of development' - roads, jobs, services etc.

What have they got to gain - nada - what have they got to lose - now that's another question isn't it?

They or their tribesmen have just sold the land out from under their feet. What do they think they can do now, reneg on the deal? Good luck.

Somebody's gonna have to cough up the money. Oh, the national government.

Where do they get the money from - taxes. Who gets screwed - the workers - me, you and the public service, who are already forking out money for the extended family.

Until people really care, until leaders have real concern and are allowed by their electorates to demostrate real concern what's gonna happen is nada.

What eats my craw the most is that in the end it's the village women who suffer the most. After all who do you think is doing the majority of gardenning, fetching fresh drinking water, fuel wood, child bearing and caring in the village households?

And it doesn't look good for them either way - mine or no mine.

I'm blathering - so what!

Trevor Freestone

I agree with Phil. As well as a viable agriculture sector in which every villager can take part if they wish to do so, tourism could also be a valuable means of earning overseas money.

There are excellent examples where local villagers did and are earning good money by staging traditional events just for tourists.

Tourism encourages everyone to value their traditions, and culture. It encourages everyone to preserve a culture that is so unique and should not be lost. Tourism allows everyone who wants to be involved to also earn good money.

The mining companies overseas who earn huge sums of money, and the few Papua New Guineans who also benefit from mining have failed to improve the lives of villagers.

Instead the villagers are busy contriving illegal schemes to try to earn some money.

A ridiculous situation after all the minerals do belong to them under traditional law.

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