I'M NOT SURE that Papua New Guinea really needs the LNG Project, or the Ramu nickel mine for that matter.
In fact, it probably could have done without Ok Tedi, Porgera and Hides (not to mention Panguna). I can understand the need for a large mineral resource base in Australia because nearly everyone works for wages and jobs are extremely important.
Papua New Guinea is not yet primarily a wage-based society. Estimates vary but I believe something like 85% of the population are still reasonably happy subsistence farmers.
Australia has a vast land mass, much of it extremely arid. This is used to run hard-hoofed stock like sheep and cattle, which create massive environmental damage. Dropping the odd mine or two into this scenario hardly makes any difference.
In fact, in places like Olympic Dam and Prominent Hill in South Australia, where I was brought up and worked for a long time, the mining companies have acquired pastoral leases and introduced no or minimal and closely-controlled stock numbers.
Areas north of Olympic Dam, which have been de-stocked for a while now, look magnificent, just like a desert environment should look.
The PNG government has never been able to capitalise on its mineral wealth, least of all spreading the benefits to the ordinary people. It is questionable whether it will be able to achieve this with the LNG Project.
The bulk of the cash will go overseas to the USA and the royalties will be frittered away or end up in the pockets of a few people. Meanwhile, the local landholders will be left with a devastated and alienated landscape - witness Ok Tedi. The ordinary people will not get jobs out of it. Once the construction is complete there will only be a few hundred up for grabs.
But do the local people really need jobs anyway? They've managed to feed themselves and live reasonably comfortable lives so far without much trouble. Clan warfare and sorcery have actually increased dramatically through development, so they won't lose out there either. Wouldn't it be better if they just made a bit of money selling their agricultural products?
And wouldn't the government be better off concentrating on getting basic services to the people rather than spending its budget beefing up the army so it can protect the miners?
PNG is not a large country and its needs are modest. A viable agricultural sector, sustained fishing and carefully and a sustainably managed timber industry with a few small to medium sized mines operating in an environmentally friendly way are all that are needed. New Zealand is very much like that and seems to get on fine.
So why is everyone busting a gut to dig everything up and sell it to the Chinese and Americans? It doesn't make sense.
I doubt whether developments like the LNG Project will be the goose that lays the golden egg and, if it is, someone else will eat the egg.
Sometimes the universal mantra of development at all costs just doesn't make sense. Especially in places blessed with so much else, like Papua New Guinea.