Modern Papua New Guinea

By Laura Zimmer-Tamakoshi | Go to book overview

Colin Filer


THE MELANESIAN WAY OF MENACING THE
MINING INDUSTRY

JN JUNE 1996 Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd., operators of the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea, finally reached an out-of-court settlement with Slater and Gordon, the Melbourne law firm which represented the claims of various landowning communities living downstream of the mine whose subsistence resources had been extensively damaged by the discharge of waste material into their river system for more than a decade. Under the terms of the settlement, the mining company agreed to fund a substantial compensation package, to pay the legal costs of their opponents, and to find new ways of mitigating the physical impact of the waste material. The settlement has been widely regarded as a victory for what one commentator described as ‘a global alliance of landowners, ecological activists, anthropologists and lawyers [who had] mounted a worldwide campaign to stop the mine from polluting the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers’ (Kirsch 1996:14).

This was only the second episode in the recent history of the local mining industry to receive substantial publicity outside of Papua New Guinea, the first being the closure of the Bougainville copper mine by militant landowners and local secessionists in 1989. The amount of publicity which it received was largely due to the fact that it could be readily portrayed and digested as a classic David-and-Goliath struggle between downtrodden indigenous peoples and monstrous multinational companies. Indeed, this was one of the reasons why Slater and Gordon chose to present their case in an Australian court and one of the reasons why one of the company's senior executives was forced to

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