History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG|
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 1995 23:09:15 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu>
Subject: Papua New Guinea: Ok Tedi: BHP's "Kiss of death"
From: the guardian <email@example.com>
BHP's kiss of death
By Tom Pearson, in the Guardian (Sydney)
30 August 1995
The more the Broken Hill Proprietory (BHP), [Australia's big and
ugly transnational corporation] tries to cover its tracks from
trampling on human rights at its Ok Tedi mine in Papua New
Guinea, the more mess it creates for itself. Ok Tedi landowners
could be prevented from suing BHP for the mine's pollution of
their land and river system if legislation is passed in the PNG
Parliament in September. It has been revealed that the
legislation, which contains an agreement between BHP and the PNG
Government, was drawn up by BHP's lawyers.
The agreement provides that any person in PNG taking legal action
against BHP will be fined $100,000, and $10,000 for each day the
"offense" continues. It contains a compensation package of $110
million to be paid to PNG citizens affected by the pollution in
the region of the mine but this will severely limit and control
any additional compensation payments.
Lawyers for the landowners, Slater & Gordon, have revealed that
the word processing directory reference on both the Bill to go to
Parliament and the agreement which is included in the Bill, are
those of solicitors working with BHP's lawyers.
Nick Styant-Browne from Slater & Gordon said that this confirmed
that BHP's lawyers had drawn up the Bill on BHP's instructions.
"We have referred the matter to the Australian Securities
Commission for investigation of a possible breach of Companies
and Securities legislation relating to misstatements by company
officers...", said Mr Styant-Browne.
The Chief Parliamentary Draftsman in PNG is quoted in the PNG
press as denying any knowledge of the legislation. Mr Styant-
Browne said that the only other explanation for BHP's lawyers
drafting the Bill was "unthinkable" -- that the PNG Government
had instructed them to draft the Bill.
He said this would have "created an impossible conflict of
interest", being asked to prepare legislation which affects
BHP and at the same time owing fiduciary duty to BHP to safeguard
the company's rights and interests.
"The only realistic explanation is that BHP instructed its
lawyers to draw the Bill containing the criminal provisions which
offend every basic premise and principle of human and democratic
rights", said Mr Styant-Browne.
More dirty footprints appeared last week when the Australian
Conservation Foundation (ACF) accused BHP of influencing
Australian Government aid funding expenditure.
Dr Helen Rosenbaum, ACF's Policy Analyst, said that the
Department of Foreign Affairs, AusAID and Minister Bilney
appeared to have bowed to pressure from BHP in a decision to not
fund a proposal for a community awareness project in PNG.
The project involves a series of community workshops to be
conducted in remote areas of PNG. "The objective of the
workshops is to raise understanding of villagers about the
impacts of mining", said Dr Rosenbaum, "so that they have
access to full information when making a decision about whether
to allow or not allow mining companies access to their land.
"The idea is to fill in the side of the picture that the
mining companies choose to leave out when approaching landholders
The ACF has documentation which indicates that BHP has been
deliberately attempting to damage the reputation of the ACF and
has been actively misinforming Australian Government officials
about the Foundation's activities. The proposal for the project
was submitted 10 months ago but the government has still made no
"It appears that BHP has succeeded in influencing AusAID
despite the fact that the project was evaluated and ranked highly
for funding by AusAID's own appraisal panel", Dr Rosenbaum
Dr Rosenbaum said it was obvious that BHP resents the scrutiny of
its activities at the Ok Tedi mine that groups such as the ACF
have subjected it to.
"It is ironic BHP acknowledges and justifies its opposition
to the funding [of the project] on the basis that the project
will not contribute to the ecological development of PNG. I would
like to ask them how the discharge of more than 80,000 tonnes of
untreated tailings waste directly into what used to be a pristine
river system, contributes to ecological sustainable
At a public forum in the Western Province of PNG on August 18,
the people whose rights are being trampled, the Ok Tedi
landowners, demanded that the company pay them compensation,
including back payments since the mine started. They also called
for a dam to be built to take the mine's yearly 80,000 tonnes of
waste tailings instead of continuing to dump it in the Fly and Ok
The forum was part of the Women Para-Legal Training Workshop
organised by community groups in the Western Province where the
mine is located.
"We totally support the court case pursued by our Australian
lawyers, Slater and Gordon [in the Victorian Supreme Court]",
said forum spokesperson Aniwa Sasuwa, "and we strongly reject the
proposed compensation payment ... [to be paid] over the life of
"We will pursue our issue democratically by using the courts.
We assure Slater and Gordon, BHP and the PNG Government that we
are serious that justice is done."
One forum member called BHP's compensation package the kiss of
death. "It is a kiss of death of our rights to claim fair
compensation under the law of damage", she said. "It is
totally irrational and unconstitutional."
Meanwhile Australian mineworkers are defending the rights of PNG
landowners. The Mining & Energy Division of the Construction,
Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) representing over 5,000
employees of BHP Ltd has called upon the company to lift its game
with regard to the Ok Tedi project in Papua New Guinea. The union
warned that BHP employees in Australia expect BHP to respect the
civil and political rights of people in all countries it operates
A national meeting in Sydney on August 24-25 of delegates from
BHP mining operations across Australia expressed its concern over
the "appalling" environmental practices at Ok Tedi which "reflect
badly on the supposed commitment of the company to good
Tony Maher, Vice-President of the Mining and Energy Division of
the union, said "the move by the company in conjunction with the
PNG Government to remove the common law rights of affected people
to seek compensation is a draconian act that shows scant regard
for human rights.
"If BHP is prepared to do this in PNG, simply because the
government there condones or encourages such practices, what does
that say about BHP's real attitudes to its employees and the
community anywhere else, including here in Australia?
"If BHP really means what is says about best practice in
environmental management, community and industrial relations it
will abandon its current stance and move rapidly to lift its game
at Ok Tedi. This must include respecting the rights of people to
seek compensation", concluded Mr Maher.
Tom Pearson is a staff writer for "The Guardian"
Published in "The Guardian", newspaper
of the Socialist Party of Australia in its issue of Wednesday,
August 30th, 1995.
Contact address: 65 Campbell Street, Surry
Hills. Sydney. 2010 Australia.
Fax: 612 281 5795.
Republication is permitted with
acknowledgment. Subscription rates on request.