Home > Corruption, Human rights, mining, Papua New Guinea > O’Neill blasts ‘colonial mentality’ in Garnaut / BHP dispute

O’Neill blasts ‘colonial mentality’ in Garnaut / BHP dispute

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

From PNG Mine Watch

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has attacked “false and misleading claims” by a mining company as reported in the Australian Financial Review, the PNG Post-Courier reports.

O’Neill said BHP Billiton needed to get over its “colonial era” mentality, and appreciate that Papua New Guinea was an independent nation.

He said Australia should negotiate with Papua New Guinea in the “same, mature and reasonable way” numerous other Australian resource companies do.

“Instead of seeking the intervention and assistance of the Australian government, the company should negotiate with my government, and me, as Prime Minister,” O’Neill said.

“The article claims that I had blocked the granting or extension of exploration licences because it would not agree with my proposals regarding the determination of the board of PNG Sustainable Development Programme.

“This is totally and utterly false. It is just dishonest,” the prime minister said, according to the Post-Courier.

“BHP Billiton surrendered the licences entirely on its own accord. It did so when it made a decision early last year not to invest in Papua New Guinea – after I had personally invited the company to meet with senior cabinet ministers, including myself, to consider investing in PNG.

“We did everything possible to encourage the company, just as we encourage and assist other major investors all the time. They decided not to take up the offer.

“That occurred before the mid-year elections, and eight or nine months before I made my comments on Professor Ross Garnaut,” he said.

‘Inaccurate comments’
O’Neill said the central issue was not Professor Garnaut and his “inaccurate and ill-informed comments” on why he wanted the issues surrounding the way the board of PNGSDP was appointed to be changed.

“The central issue is this – 11 years ago, BHP Billiton was done an enormous favour by the then PNG government and allowed to exit ownership of the Ok Tedi Mine without accepting any financial or moral, responsibility for the enormous environmental and social damage that occurred in the 20 years it operated the mine,” he said.

“Surely, 11 years on, there can be no reasonable case made out to justify BHP Billiton continuing to exercise effective control over the PNGSDP, and as a consequence, the Ok Tedi Mine itself.

“The claim by BHP Billiton and by Professor Garnaut that I want the PNG government to get its hands on the funds of the PNGSDP is personally offensive. All I have sought, and will continue to seek, is negotiations that can lead to BHP Billiton ending a role that it is not justified to continue to play.

“My position is supported by my government, and I believe by the national Parliament and the people of the Fly River, Western Province,” he said.

O’Neill said BHP Billiton should reflect on the appalling environmental damage that occurred during its management of the Ok Tedi mine, and the terrible consequences for the people of the Fly River area – consequences which continue to be felt today.

“The PNG government of the day decided just over a decade ago to legislate to allow BHP Billiton to walk away from any responsibility for the damage that was caused during its management of the mine.

“That spared the company the massive costs, and international humiliation it faced because it effectively ended compensation claims by landowners and local communities along the Fly River.

“The provisions that allowed the company to effectively control the appointment of the board of the PNGSDP, and therefore continue its influence over Ok Tedi, were generous. There can be no justification for their continuation,” he said.

“The Australian government is well aware of the position of my government. The legislation that effectively let BHP Billiton off the hook is PNG law, not Australian law,” he said.

O’Neill said he rejected the claims in the article that his position was damaging the PNG investment climate.

“This is total nonsense. Last month I addressed 1400 mining, oil and gas leaders, and financiers and analysts, in Sydney, at the annual PNG Mining and Petroleum Conference.

“At that conference, there was strong confidence expressed about PNG as a country in which to invest, and in the range of policies my government has in place, and is committed to, to give investors confidence and certainty.

“The claim that this issue has undermined confidence could not be further from the truth,” O’Neill said.

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  1. January 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I’m touched by the eloquence of PM O’Neil and his ability to put across his response in a fashion I didn’t experience with other PMs in the past. Cool, calm yet assertive. It would seem the new leader is aware about the need to respond more diplomatically rather than the shouting and yelling experienced with some old leaders in the past.

  2. Fadus
    January 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    “…any financial or moral, responsibility for the enormous environmental and social damage that occurred in the 20 years it operated the mine.” Well said PM perhaps its time that we had a moratorium on all mining and exploration activities in PNG.What the rush? Why do we need to exploit all our resources as soon as they are discovered? What about future generations?

  3. January 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Peter O’Neil is speaking the right lanugaue we have not heard over the years. we are progressing and the future is bright. We see you know what you are doing in all aspects of this young nation. Thank you so much.

  4. Sick of pretentious and corrupt expats in PNG
    February 24, 2013 at 2:04 am

    As well as attacking Prof Ross Garnaut who apparently was put in charge of the pNGSDPL by BHP and Sir Mekere when he was PM in 2001/2002, the government should take a closer look at the management of OTML. There is total colonialism within the OTML management where Australian expatriates are appointing their own friends and relatives to jobs within the operation. Expats without no experience or background education on the positions they hold for indecent amounts of remuneration are being appointed left, rightr and centre while PNG nationals are mere bystanders watching the climb up the corporate ladder of little known expats who come to OTML for the loads of money they get offered. A positive legacy of OTML should be skills transfer but after almost 35 years of operation, whitemen and women are still being promoted and appointed without clear localisation plans to hand over skills to PNG nationals. As a result there are many expats who have been employed for over 10, 15, 20 years at OTML. There is frustration and disgruntlement among national managers with the company but no-one is game enough to take the white colonialistic management on. Well PNG nationals at OTML, yupela sleep stap na ol waitman na meri,who are no hopers in their homeland, will walk all over you and make shit-load of money to build themselves mansions in Australia na yupela bai go bek long ples and live in a standard 3-4 bedroom houses. You-pela yet nau! You all know there are some very strange appointments in the company, so why not organise a small party to meet with the government and raise your concerns. And Sir Mekere, as OTML chairman, you should ask for an audit or review OTML operations as well as the landowner companies in Tabubil that are also corruptly run by expats as discussed in these pages previously. FYI Sir Mekere your fellow PNG national managers at OTML are not happy with the current state of play regarding localisation, appointments and promotions. Expats should not be at OTML for more than 10 years! It is shameful that they claim that PNG nationals cannot perform therefore expats must remain on the payroll.

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