Panguna mine, derelict for 32 years following the outbreak of a 10-year civil war, becomes the main target of an ugly race for Bougainville's wealth
Scramble for resources: The international race for Bougainville’s mineral wealth, Jubilee Australia Research Centre, Sydney NSW, June 2022, 44 pages. Free download here
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd: “Scramble for Resources shines a much-needed light on the practices of the new waves of mining and exploration companies in Bougainville. Given the sheer number of Australian companies involved in this stampede for Bougainville’s resources, and the consequences for people living on the island, its findings should cause Australians to sit up and take notice”
BUKA – Bougainville is home to the Panguna mine – once one of the largest operating copper and gold mines in the world.
During its operation from 1972-1989, the mine operator, then a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, dumped one billion tonnes of mining waste into Bougainville’s rivers with devastating environmental consequences.
The mine sparked a brutal ten-year conflict on the island, the effects of which are seen to this day.
This Jubilee published report reveals how the mine, derelict for 32 years after closed by guerrilla action, has now become the main target of a scramble for resources.
Bougainville is transitioning towards independence from Papua New Guinea and has attracted mining and minerals exploration companies from around the world, drawn by its valuable copper and gold reserves.
Most of these companies are based in or have links to Australia.
Over a two-year investigation, Jubilee tracked the companies vying for the right to mine on Bougainville, ranging from one-person outfits to global operations backed by major investors.
Some of these companies are hoping to reopen the defunct Panguna mine.
We found that at least two of those seeking mining rights at Panguna have been making payments to the landowner groups likely to be involved in decisions about whether to reopen the mine.
Another company has made payments to local police.
The report also looks at two leaked corporate presentations prepared for the Bougainvillean government that advised it to put valuable mining rights in the hands of offshore companies set up in a secret jurisdiction.
Jubilee raises questions about corporate accountability, transparency and who is responsible for safeguarding human rights and the environment when multinational companies are operating overseas.
It highlights the importance of corporate political engagement being transparent, responsible and in the public interest.
When Australian companies operate overseas, they should be answerable for the human and environmental impacts of their operations.
Based on the findings of the report, Jubilee has recommended that Australia establish a human rights due diligence mechanism and a corporate beneficial ownership register to hold companies to account for the impact of their operations on communities overseas.
Whether or not to reopen Bougainville to large-scale mining is a decision for the Bougainville people and their government.
It is important that anyone seeking to mine there has the free, prior and informed consent of all landowners, and that mining ventures deliver genuine benefits to local communities and avoid repeating the environmental devastation of the past.