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Jubilee Australia, Dr Lasslett & questions of good faith

Hon Dr Chief John MomisJOHN MOMIS

THE Bougainville Mining Act was enacted by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) in March 2015.

It was the subject of a report launched in Australia in November by NGO, Jubilee Australia.

I question the good faith of Jubilee Australia and its CEO, Ms Brynnie Goodwill.

In 2014 the ABG criticised an earlier Jubilee report about landowner views on mining in Bougainville as biased, misleading, ill-informed and based on deeply flawed research.

The ABG welcomes open and honest debate about what it is doing. To the extent that the Jubilee report makes balanced criticism and well informed suggestions, the ABG welcomes the comment, and will take note of it. But the ABG has four main criticisms of this new report.

First, despite being a marked improvement on Jubilee's 2014 report, much of the new report reflects the same biased and ill-informed approach as the earlier document.

The 2015 report on the Bougainville Mining Act is clearly authored with the same ignorance of Bougainville as the 2014 report, and the same deep biases.

All are evident in the work of Jubilee's main advisor about Bougainville, and the author of its 2014 report.

That is the young Australian Marxist academic, Kristian Lasslett. His deeply unbalanced material can be found in his articles and a book, reflecting his Marxist theory.

It is also in social media, and in his mainly ('courageously'!) anonymous postings on the PNG Mine Watch blog (many of which pre-figure the material in this report).

Lasslett constantly presents the ABG as in some way involved in some sort of arrangement  with BCL to resume mining in Bougainville, against the wishes of the people of Bougainville.

He sees Adam Smith International (ASI) (who advised the ABG on mining policy) as an ultra-right wing lobby group. The implication is either that ASI is part of the same conspiracy, or has otherwise influenced the ABG to act against the interests of the people of Bougainville.

He also sees any Australian-funded adviser to the ABG as part of 'soft power', that in some unspecified way forces the ABG to make its mining policy and law in favour of BCL, Rio Tinto and the Australian government, and against the interests of Bougainville.

For Lasslett, the ABG and its leaders seem to be either evil or stupid, pawns in the hands of powers they don't comprehend.

These completely false views underlie Jubilee's new report, just as with the 2014 report. The only difference is that more attempt has been made to soften the prominence of such views. They are introduced more slyly.

While it's perhaps not surprising that a young academic seeks to make reality fit his theory, it's disappointing that an NGO such as Jubilee is so ignorant of Bougainville and its leaders as to be incapable of questioning such nonsense.

The Bougainville Government was democratically elected by Bougainvilleans in elections where mining issues have been hotly debated.

The ABG works hard and honestly to represent the people, and to achieve the best possible outcomes for them. This report, premised on the same constant critiques, 1s a disappointing reflection of either deep ignorance or sometl1ing worse.

Second, the report is profoundly negative. In particular, it  fails  to acknowledge in any way the extent to which this mining law provides protection to landowner rights.

There is no mining law anywhere in the world that offers the degree of protection to customary landowners that the new Bougainville law does. Very clearly, whoever wrote the report has virtually no comparative experience of mining legislation.

With the assistance of such experience, Jubilee might have recognised the remarkable extent to which this law moves the balance of protection away from mining companies to landowners.

Then the report might have made more  a more realistic analysis. But the main comparison is to the PNG Mining Act 1992, and there mainly in relation to penalties. So there's no sense of reality.

If Bougainville is to attract responsible investors, then any mining law it has must provide a balance between the interests of landowners and mining companies. It must provide a degree of security for mining companies as well.

Third, both the report, and statements made about it by Jubilee's CEO, Ms. Goodwill in an interview on Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program on Wednesday 11 November, are in many instances untrue. 

A few examples make the point. The report and the CEO claim there is no real landowner veto because the ABG might compulsorily acquire land to defeat the veto! Clearly they have no idea of the reality of the strength of landowner power m Bougainville. It would be political suicide for any government to do that.

The report and Ms Goodwill talk of dramatic increases in the penalties in the Act, their point of comparison being the PNG Mining Act enacted in 1992. But they 'conveniently' forget to mention that the PNG Act was passed in 1992, when the PNG kina was valued several times more than it is now. 

The report and Ms. Goodwill talk about landowners facing penalties, and seem to suggest that mining companies do not. That is simply untrue. Ms. Goodwill claimed that penalties for certain offences that landowners might be charged with are mandatory. That is simply untrue.

The penalties in the Act apply to all, not just landowners. The most serious offence under the Act is unauthorised exploration or mining, the maximum penalty for which is a Kl million fine and 10 years' imprisonment.

If a mining company's activities are in breach of the terms of their lease, then that activity would be unauthorised  and attract appropriate sanction.

Parts of the report are deeply misleading. For example, it is completely inaccurate when it purports to use quotes from me to claim that the "scope of the 'veto' [for landowners over mining] has been outlined in a series of official assertions that are not supported by the text of the mining act".

The report relies on various reports of statements I have made. It completely misconstrues a radio report of a January 2015 statement to claim that I wrongly proclaimed that landowners would be able to halt any operation they were unhappy with. The quoted statement was a general one made on a blog associated with a radio station, which did not say that it quoted me verbatim.

The point I was actually making, consistent with scores of other statements I made on the topic, was simply that under our new law no proposed mining operation would go ahead without landowner agreement. Why could Jubilee not approach me to ask me what I meant rather than combing through the records of reports to find something that might be construed against me?

The report also cites a second reading speech I made about the 2014 Mining Act to say that I wrongly claimed that the 2015 Act gives landowners a veto over the grant  of exploration licences.  In fact, the 2014 Act did grant such a veto. But that was changed in the 2015 Act. What I said in 2014 has no relevance to the 2015 Act. I have never claimed that it gives a veto over exploration licences.

I hope that Jubilee was not trying to deliberately mislead by including this and much other wrong material. The likely reason for such inclusion of material, however, is the bias already mentioned.

The fact that there is a real veto power vested in landowners is not one that Jubilee, or Kristian Lasslett, could readily accept. For them the ABG's intentions are always suspect.

The report, and the invitation to its launch, claim that the 2015 Act "creates the legal framework for reopening the Panguna mine, a project which triggered a decade long conflict that cost up to 20,000 lives". That is untrue. It is not the intention of the Act.

The ABG is certainly open to the re-opening of  the  Panguna mine as the best option, at present, for providing  the revenue  needed for either autonomy of independence.

But as the ABG has always made clear, that will only happen if the affected landowners agree, and under entirely new conditions. The same will be true of any new mine for Bougainville.  No  decision has been made to re-open the Panguna mine.

These are just some exan1ples of the material in the report and the false claims  by Jubilee that reflect bias, bad faith, and a mean-spirited approach.

Fourth, Jubilee, and Kristian Lasslett, continue to  show  bad  faith  by  simply refusing to engage with the ABG. Ms. Goodwill made  much  of the  fact that the ABG invited Jubilee to comment on the Act (an invitation made to other organisations too). But at no point prior to completion of their report did Jubilee indicate such a report was being prepared.

More  important,  Jubilee never sought to discuss the issues or to check their facts (such as their incorrect attributions to me of statements about the extent of the landowner veto).

Rather than engaging with the ABG, those involved in preparation of the report they relied on their long-held assumptions about ABG links to BCL, right wing think tanks, and the Australian Government.

Had they approached us, in good faith, they would have found the ABG more than willing to engage with them. Quite a different report might have been produced.

In  all the circumstances,  it's very hard to take Jubilee Australia seriously.

Comments

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Chris Overland

It is hard not to feel a bit sorry for Dr Momis. He is in a terrible spot really.

Many of his fellow Bougainvilleans have a deeply held conviction that their future lies in being an independent country. Leonard Fong Roka has eloquently stated their reasons in his contributions to PNG Attitude and in his books on the subject.

Unhappily for Bougainville, it currently lacks the resources to go it alone unless it wishes to subside into yet another small, penniless micro state, thus joining the many others that already exist in the Pacific and Oceania.

Dr Momis, mindful of this fact, is clearly striving to find a way to revive the Panguna copper mine and, by doing so, to secure a revenue stream to fund the independence dream.

The company he has chosen to advise him, as its name very strongly implies, is well disposed towards allowing Adam Smith's famous "invisible hand" to work its magic upon Bougainville.

This necessarily means the ABG being the junior partner or even mere humble supplicant to a huge, cashed up multi-national which may agree to take up the task of bringing Panguna back into production.

You do not have to be a Marxist to understand this. One glance at the world around us provides ample evidence for it. It goes to the very nature of the capitalist system, through which the powerful exploit the weak at every opportunity.

It takes a strong government, backed by very high levels of public support, to successfully face down huge multinational corporations, as the Australian government has recently discovered.

The ABG's already horrendously difficult task is further complicated by the fact that the PNG government, even if it agrees to Bougainville becoming independent, has no intention on missing out on a share of the Panguna spoils. Hence the apparent intention to buy a controlling interest in the mine.

I feel sure that no amount of supposed legislative protection will suffice to persuade the Panguna landowners to agree to the revival of the mine except on financial, social and environmental terms that they believe adequately compensate them for the loss of their land.

Dr Momis is right: the landowners do indeed have the power of veto and, at the last, this comes from the barrel of a gun.

I do not know if Dr Kristian Lasslett is a Marxist, nor do I care. If he has pointed out the obvious risks involved in what Dr Momis, the ABG and the PNG government are doing or attempting to do, then he is clearly doing his job.

To be honest, I can see no obvious solutions to the many apparently intractable problems that confront Bougainville and PNG as they collectively struggle to identify a viable way forward for its future.

So, if only for that reason alone, I wish Dr Momis well.

Phil Fitzpatrick

We all know that Peter O'Neill is implacably opposed to independence for Bougainville.

We also know that he is a very devious operator.

Buying out BCL's share of Panguna would be a way of spiking independence because it would rob Bougainville of it's major hoped for financial base.

Whether he is prepared to further hock PNG into debt to achieve his political aim is another matter. I suspect he will.

Kristian Lasslett

Apologies, I should have added to the below, so it is clear for readers, I am a member of the Jubilee Australia Research Centre, which oversaw the production of these reports, including methodology, analysis and dissemination (see http://www.jubileeaustralia.org/page/about/people). However, a dynamic and rigorous team are involved in writing these reports. I play an oversight role with JARC colleagues. So it would be unfair to credit myself with any larger role than that, as much as I would like to take this credit.

I was absolutely transparent about my own role in the conversation generated by the first report (to quote 'As someone who oversaw the production of this report...'): http://devpolicy.org/the-dangers-of-development-ngos-sacrificing-accuracy-for-advocacy-20141003/#comment-374972

Kristian Lasslett

Keith, for the benefit of you readers who I know appreciate accuracy - I am not the author of these reports, although I think they are important documents, which I would be proud to have authored (they can be accessed here: http://www.jubileeaustralia.org/page/reports). Furthermore, there are many bloggers out there writing anonymous pieces, of which I am not the author either.

The works, which I am the author of, have my name clearly attributed to them (see here for a full list of academic publications: http://www.socsci.ulster.ac.uk/policy/profiles/kak.lasslett/research.phtml). These works have been blind peer reviewed and published in the most respected journals in my field. They are rooted in over a decade of fieldwork, where I have interviewed hundreds of senior state-corporate officials, and accumulated a large repository of state-corporate records. The rigour with which my empirical claims are advanced, has been commented on and commended in blind reviews and book reviews.

The President does not do me the courtesy of actually citing from my published work - instead he imputes to me straw man positions which I do not hold. Nor is it possible to defend accusations of ignorance or bias, when no evidence is forwarded.

My age, and nationality, do not seem a matter of importance, so I wont comment on that. But in terms of the theoretical traditions I draw from, Marxism is certainly one. It is stated very clearly in my work and justified, it remains a crucial tool for grappling with the challenges present in our contemporary world. I also draw off other theoretical traditions, which similarly help illuminate the atrocities and corruption documented in my empirical work.

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