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People power: The fight to save the Huon Gulf

It is time human rights and the environment were respected by Australian companies. PNG should not be a dumping ground

Manu Peni & Boe Spearim
Emmanuel (Manu) Peni with Boe Spearim of Let's Talk, a program of Australia's National Indigenous Radio Service


WEWAK - In Papua New Guinea, the election campaign is heating up ahead of national general elections in July.

Part of the PNG government’s election messaging is focused on its commitment to the Wafi Golpu joint venture project – an immense proposed copper and gold mine in Morobe Province.

As with the Frieda River mine in the Sepik, there are serious concerns about how to manage the huge volume of toxic mine waste the project will produce.

The communities in Morobe who are concerned about Wafi Golpu and communities in the Sepik are facing the same type of threat: the waste from an enormous copper and gold mine.

We believe that the outcome of negotiations over Wafi Golpu will have implications for the Frieda River mine and along the Sepik.

Over the next 28 years Wafi Golpu’s proponents - Australian companies Newcrest Mining Limited and Harmony Gold - want to dump millions of tonnes of hazardous mining waste directly into the Huon Gulf.

The method is known as ‘deep sea tailings placement’, or DSTP.

More than 400,000 people in the Huon peninsula depend on the ocean for their livelihood and everyday life.

Because people can catch fish, they can make an income, send their children to school and afford basic supplies such as flour and rice.

If Wafi Golpu’s current plans to dump its waste go ahead, it could devastate the Huon Gulf forever.

If the Wafi Golpu mine is approved, with DSTP as the tailings disposal method, this could also open the door for the same method to be used at the Frieda River mine.

There are no laws regulating DSTP in Papua New Guinea.

But now, after 40 years of mining ventures destroying Papua New Guinean communities and their environments, communities are fighting back.

Our partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG, has been working with communities across Morobe province, informing them of their rights, hosting workshops and advocating against Wafi Golpu’s DSTP.

On 4 April, a rally was held in Lae to celebrate the Wafi-Golpu joint venture.

But the people of the Huon peninsula had another idea.

Leaders of coastal communities attended, wearing green tee-shirts, shouting their opposition to DSTP and holding banners stating, ‘No consent! No DSTP!’.

Young people rode bicycles 60km from the north of Lae to circle the rally.

Most of the rally became devoted to addressing the communities’ stand.

“Communities do not agree with the dumping of waste into the sea, because it is their livelihood,” said Bishop Dr Jack Urame.

“We are concerned about the future – for our children, and our grandchildren.

“As the Church, we stand with our parishioners. We believe that their concerns are valid and must be heard before approval of this project can be granted.”

Dumping mining waste into the ocean in Australia would not be permitted for one day, let alone 28 years.

It is time the human rights and environment of PNG is respected by Australian companies. The country should not be treated as a lawless dumping ground.

Jubilee Australia has formed a coalition with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights and the Mineral Policy Institute, to raise concerns about the lack of free, prior and informed consent by coastal communities to Wafi-Golpu’s dumping plans.

In April, the coalition wrote an open letter to the PNG government, describing its concerns with Wafi Golpu’s DSTP.

The battle to Save the Sepik is now part of a broader movement in PNG seeking to inform and equip communities with knowledge and information about their rights.


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Barbara Short

If Newcrest Mining can use a tailings dam at their huge Cadia mine near Orange why can't they be forced to use a tailings dam in Wafi Golpu?

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