The Kokoda Trail & the enemy within
Great NG airship expedition that never happened

Rio ready to deal with unfinished business

Theonila Matbob
Influential Bougainville politician, Theonila Matbob - Prominent in advocating that Rio Tinto should accept responsibility for cleaning up Panguna's devastating legacy


NOOSA – After several months of discussions Rio Tinto and 156 Bougainville community members, represented by the Human Rights Law Centre, last week reached an agreement to assess legacy impacts of the former Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville.

The mine was operated by Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), then majority owned by Rio Tinto, from 1972 until 1989 when operations were suspended following guerrilla against the mine and a subsequent civil war.

A peace agreement was signed in 2001 and Bougainville was given greater autonomy within Papua New Guinea. A non-binding referendum on Bougainville’s political future in late 2019 resulted in 98% of voters favouring independence for the province.

In 2016, Rio Tinto had transferred its majority shareholding in BCL to the Bougainville and PNG governments.

The Bougainville residents, from a number of communities affected by the mine, filed a complaint against Rio Tinto in September 2020 alleging serious adverse environmental and human rights impacts linked to continuing pollution from the mine.

The complaint also alleged that Rio Tinto is accountable for remediating these ongoing impacts and has an obligation to provide remediation where it has caused or contributed to harm.

In response, Rio Tinto has agreed to engage with Panguna mine-affected communities to find solutions and undertake reconciliation according to Bougainvillean custom.

The company will fund an independent environmental and human rights impact assessment of the mine by qualified local and international experts.

It will also contribute to a substantial, independently managed fund to help address the harms caused by the mine and assist long-term rehabilitation efforts.

The assessment will be undertaken by an independent company unrelated to Rio Tinto or BCL and which has strong environmental and human rights expertise and which call upon local and international expertise.

The Panguna Mine Legacy Impact Assessment Committee will be established by the Bougainville government, Rio Tinto, the Human Rights Law Centre and the affected community members.

Representatives of the PNG government, BCL and other landowners and community representatives will also be invited to join the committee, which will have an independent chair.

The Bougainville government has confirmed its support for this process.

Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm -
Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm - "“We take this seriously and are committed to identifying and assessing any involvement we may have had"

“This is an important first step towards engaging with those impacted by the legacy of the Panguna mine,” said Rio Tinto chief executive, Jakob Stausholm.

“It comes after months of constructive engagement with the Human Rights Law Centre and community members facilitated by the Australian National Contact Point.

“Stakeholders have raised concerns about impacts to water, land and health and this process will provide all parties with a clearer understanding of these important matters so together we can consider the right way forward.

“We take this seriously and are committed to identifying and assessing any involvement we may have had in adverse impacts in line with our external human rights and environmental commitments and internal policies and standards,” Mr Stausholm said.

Further reading

Joint Statement by Rio Tinto and Human Rights Law Centre

Media Release by Rio Tinto



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Bernard Corden

Did Brisbane get the Olympic Games or the Olympic Games get Brisbane?

Bernard Corden

We went to see the European Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the Brisbane GOMA the other weekend.

Despite waiting almost an hour at the entrance it was an extremely enjoyable way to spend a Sunday.

I mistakenly believed the queue was people wanting to receive a free trial pack of oxycontin but the curator reassured me it was to reinforce compliance with Covid-1984 protocols.

Paul Oates

I may not always agree with your quotes Bernard, but you're on the money this time.

Bernard Corden

Over five decades ago on 21 October 1966, the Aberfan disaster claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults when a thixotropic avalanche of coal mine tailings slid down a hillside and engulfed the Pantglas junior school.

It wiped out a generation and was pronounced as a mistake that cost a village its children. In the subsequent Tribunal of Inquiry it was described as a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude although no criminal charges ensued and not a single National Coal Board executive was demoted or lost their job.

On 6 July 1988 the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster in the North Sea claimed the lives of 167 men. Following a public inquiry the rig operator, Occidental Petroleum was found guilty of having inadequate safety and maintenance procedures although no criminal charges were ever brought against the company.

On 15 April 1989 the Hillsborough stadium disaster resulted in the deaths of 96 soccer fans. The original coronial inquests returned controversial findings of accidental deaths, which were eventually quashed. Almost three decades later an independent panel of inquiry found the victims were unlawfully killed in a tragedy caused by police blunders.

During the immediate aftermath the bereaved families established a support group and received invoices from Liverpool Football Club plc covering the cost of hiring meeting rooms at the Anfield Road stadium.

Subsequent prosecutions against the match commander and former police chief were unsuccessful. More recently two former police officers and a solicitor for the police force were cleared of perverting the course of justice.

A legal technicality ensured the accused had no case to answer because police statements were altered for an informal public inquiry rather than a criminal proceeding.

The cost of the criminal trials amounted to almost £70 million and there has been one successful prosecution involving a minor misdemeanour pertaining to an obsolete ground safety certificate and the Sheffield Wednesday club secretary received a £6,500 fine.

On 2 February 2012 the MV Rabaul Queen passenger ferry capsized and sank in treacherous waters off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea with the loss of at least 200 passengers.

The owner and the captain of the doomed and overcrowded rust bucket were eventually acquitted of manslaughter chargers in the PNG National Court.

In the United States a recent review of its opioid scandal and federal authority approval of hillbilly heroin confirms the Sackler family netted almost US$13 billion from its empire of pain.

Less than a year later, an official involved in the approval process eventually jumped ship and received an annual salary amounting to almost US$ 400,000 from the organisation.

The family still denies any responsibility and has paid out ashtray money in damages following a deal with the Trump administration last year. Meanwhile Purdue Pharma has declared itself bankrupt.

Following disasters with the deaths of loved ones, the only parole for many of the bereaved dependents and survivors is death or dementia. They inevitably encounter traditional delay, deny and die tactics although endure the profound pain and persistent distress with absolute dignity despite the torment of burning injustice.

Indeed, in an adversarial system that sacrifices rather than realises the principles of natural justice, it is quite evident the theatre of law has very little to do with the discovery of truth and as Bob Dylan once proclaimed………"You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" and "Money doesn't talk it swears".

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