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29 August 2010


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Peter - It is my guess that each tectonic plate on the planet has their own set of aquifers. The Australia plate goes all the way to Afghanistan.

So there is a link between the Afghanistan underground water system and that of Australia, linked over millions of years. We drink water that was tramped through by the dinosaurs before sinking into the aquifers.

So too the water of PNG, a continent that sits on the kink in the carpet on the Australia plate pushed by the Antarctic plate and blocked by the Pacific plate.

Is there massive underground water under the ocean in the Pacific plate? It is logical to think that the aquifers can only originate on land.

Peter Emerson - In answer to one of your questions, yes aquifers do flow under the oceans.

The water in Darwin and the NT actually comes from PNG having seeped through aquifers under the Torres Strait for hundreds of years. Not my word, but that of a local geologist.

On another note, the lobsters caught in NT also come from PNG (or vice versa). They have an annual migration that takes them between the coasts of our two countries. They walk along the seabed all the way!

Apparently this dates back to when there was a land bridge between PNG and Australia. Then the sea level increased and the lobsters kept walking further and further to get from one side to the other.

There was a report in the media that the groundwater of the world is dropping especially in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia.

Has there been research done into aquifers of the world? Do nations that rely on surface water still have massive supplies of underground water?

Will a drop in underground be a cause of massive political instability in the world in years to come? What is the disposition of groundwater in the world? Do aquifers flow under the oceans?

Paul - I can feel and understand your anger and frustration, but Keith is right. Within ten years of Ok Tedi’s commencement, the environmental devastation was widely known worldwide, and pressure was brought to bear on BHP from environmental groups in Australia, Europe and North America, from European customers, European governments, and even the Australian staff within other areas of BHP - as horrified as everyone else at the disaster that unfolded at Ok Tedi.

It was with, and only because of, the help of environmental groups in Australia that the landowners were able to bring legal action against BHP in Australian courts.

It is for this very reason the current PNG government is trying to “ban foreign NGOs from operating in PNG” today, as the fight against Ramu gains traction outside PNG.

In 1999, under enormous external and internal pressure, BHP finally 'fessed up to the damage. As reported in the Asia Times, August 13th, 1999: "Four years after it ran an advertising campaign proclaiming that the 90 million tons of mine waste it dumped each year into the Ok Tedi river were 'virtually identical' to natural sediment, BHP admitted its error."

People of the Rai Coast - all over PNG today - have every reason to worry when Ramu, Lihir, Rio Tinto, Marengo and others claim their mine waste will do no harm.

Independent assessment found it would take 300 years to clean up the Fly and Ok Tedi rivers, and so BHP walked away.

The mine remains open at the behest of the PNG government and, while scheduled to close in 2012, there are rumours that its license will be extended for many more years to come.

No attempt has been made to clean up, change the practices or prepare for closure.

And, back in the nineties, the International Water Tribunal (funded by the European Commission, Scandinavian and European government agencies) researched and reported on the Ok Tedi situation thus: "If no cost-effective storage is feasible, the jury believes that the externalised costs of the project grossly exceed the benefits and, consequently, the activities of Ok Tedi should be phased out.

"The Ok Tedi case highlights the need for foreign shareholders to be held liable for environmental damage."

This verdict is especially relevant given Ramu's push for deep sea tailings disposal, accompanied by Australian joint venture partner, Highland Pacific's claim that if it can't use DSTP the project is unviable.

This, of course, is BS. It is viable - just not as profitable - to house the tailings in a safe manner.

The Ramu battle is being portrayed within PNG as being against the Chinese. But with Highlands Pacific's beneficial interest increasing over time, with Australian lawyers working for them and the PNG government - itself fighting against the people opposed to Ramu, you couldn't be further from the truth in claiming the only reason we comment on it here is because it is a Chinese company involved.

My personal belief is that it is the Australians really pulling the strings in all of this.

Just as BHP in 1999 drafted legislation for the PNG government that would make it a criminal offence to take legal action against BHP in courts outside PNG, I believe the Australian law firm working for the PNG government with links to Highlands Pacific, Allens Arthur Robinson, drafted PNG’s controversial Environment Amendment Act of 2010.

Tiffany Nonggorr is heroic in taking the stand. The personal risk and financial commitment she has in fighting the infinite might of Chinese and Australian business interests and her own government.

She needs every bit of support the people of PNG can give her, because if she loses this battle, everything is lost.

Kiss your land and your water goodbye as the gates are thrown open to many more Ok Tedis, Misimas, Bougainvilles, Porgeras, Ramus and Lihirs.

And who will be to blame for this? Not the Chinese, not the Australians, but the PNG government. And the PNG people who did nothing to stop it.

Paul Toriea’s comments are wrong and unfair.

The Ok Tedi BHP project began in 1984 and the environmental disaster developed in the years thereafter, eventually resulting in many million of tons of mining waste damaging the environment and ruining the livelihood of 50,000 people.

There is no evidence that this pollution affected the Great Barrier Reef.

Paul needs to know, and should know, that there was an enormous campaign against BHP by environmental groups, Tiffany Nonggorr’s predecessors.

In 1999, the then BHP CEO Paul Anderson admitted the mine was "not compatible with our environmental values" and BHP withdrew from the mine.

Lower Fly communities sued BHP and received US$28.6 million in a settlement.

In 2007 lawyer Camillus Narokobi lodged a lawsuit on behalf of 3,000 Ninggerum people seeking US$4 billion in damages. The Ok Tedi Mine is scheduled to close in 2012.

So where were “all these people” when BHP was despoiling the PNG landscape. They were fighting the good fight, Paul. Where were you? - KJ

Ouch, Paul! Probable well deserved jab to the breadbasket.

I've got to confess that when the Big Aussie began pumping sludge, that my knowledge of biodiversity was akin to the thought of that being two types of background character references.

Much of the good facts and the nonsense too of sustainability and environmental issues has only become prominent in my understanding over the past few years.

Information too has only flowed more freely in this age of the computer and internet revolution.

Before, perpetrators of industrial infamy were less likely to be reported than now, when even the most remote locations are scrutinised by the newshounds and the critics.

I was just wondering where Tiffany and all you people were when the Big Australian was pumping over 100,000 tons of heavy metal cocktail down the Fly River system?

This compromised the Great Barrier Reef, the legacy of which we can still feel and even see the moonscape?

Where have you all been? or is it because this time it is the Chinese? You hypocrites!

I was going to add the fact that women in matrilineal societies generally have a status higher than in patrilineal societies. This seems to be universal.

In Australia Aboriginal women traditionally were treated very badly by men. This is part of the problem in the horror camps in the NT like Wadeye.

The Adnyamathanha people in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia are organised in matrilineal moieties and have much higher status than elsewhere and much less social problems.

Thanks Phil - That does clarify and much appreciated. Your comment (para 3), however, sounds like something I would say!

Perhaps Garnaut follows the Al Gore/Rajendra Pachauri business model. Invest, alarm, reap.

I sincerely hope I do not disappoint you on the book! Very much the antithesis of academic analysis.

Some people think that when you refer to patrilineal and matrilineal societies that men are in charge in the former and women in the latter.

The key word is 'lineal'. Both are systems of tracing descent and arranging kinship relationships and do not imply who is in charge.

Land in Bougainville has in the past and still does pass down through the women's line. In political terms, however, it is the men who make the big decisions. Which might explain why the situation descended into violence and destruction.

With Ross Garnaut, I find it incongruous that he can sit on the boards of companies that pollute and damage the environment and then produce a report warning about climate change and the need to mend our ways.

The fact that he is on those boards makes me wonder about his sincerity in relation to climate change.

To me that is reminiscent of politicians who, while in power, are deadly enemies of the idealistically opposed members on the opposite side but who, when retired, seem to be the best of friends.

One wonders how sincere their ideology was in fact.

Hope that makes it a bit clearer. I've become a cynic in my dotage. Also looking forward to reading your book.

Thank you, Keith, for continuing to bring PNG issues to light. Thank you also for the unexpected torch on my own writing.

@Phil Fitzpatrick, thank you for comment. I was perhaps not clear in my statement. I understand Bougainville to be both a matrilineal society and one in which the women, as traditional landowners, were in charge until colonisation by Australia.

I will happily stand corrected and make the change in the article. Can someone else confirm if I need to make that change?

Also Phil, I am not sure I understand the point you are making with regard to Dr Ross Garnaut, specifically the reference to ‘political foes and bosom buddies’.

Dr Garnaut is Chairman of PNG Sustainable Development Program Ltd, a Director of Ok Tedi Mining, as well as being Chairman of Lihir Gold and sitting on its Sustainable Development Committee.

I personally find a few inferred oxymorons in all of that, however, I don’t wish to comment on Dr Garnaut personally as I am not familiar enough with his track record.

@Barbara Short, thank you. Incidentally, I caught up with a friend in mining over the weekend and asked very similar questions.

There are much safer more environmentally palatable ways of dealing with the waste. The real problem however arises due to the scale of mining today.

With increasing scale comes increasing difficulty in dealing with the waste, and in cases of diminishing ore quality, the need to mine even greater volumes to extract that ore. It is an issue that demands immediate attention.

All valid concerns, @Marilyn Johnston.

@Reginal Renagi thank you. I too am a fan of Tiffany Nonggorr. Her courage and commitment in this case warrants recognition and support.

It is an interesting point @Robin Lillicrapp. However, I am not a proponent for the one government ideal you suggest as being the plan of the United Nations, nor a proponent of the ‘climate change agenda’.

Nor do I make a lineal connection between valuing ecosystem services and indigenous poverty. Quite the opposite in fact, as I have been watching the progress of the Costa Rican government in this field with interest.

In properly accounting for the ecosystem services, it would require corporations and governments to take significantly greater care of the environment than they currently do in too many situations.

There are returns on protecting the environment that far exceed monetary returns, including human health, safe food, fresh water and social stability - all sometimes at risk or in some cases irreparably damaged.

No amount of money can help then. We need look no further than downstream of Ok Tedi for evidence of that.

To formalise the value of the environment in a manner understood by industry gives an economic foundation to preservation.

There are many more jobs to be had outside of mining and logging for a far greater time, with many more advantages, as the Franklin River region in Tasmania demonstrates.

And where mining is warranted, far greater value and long term benefits can be extracted by the government on behalf of the people - at the very least, tighter environmental regulations, proper disposal of tailings, community education and health facilities, skills training and investment in community ventures to name but a few.

This would reflect the true value to the community of what has been or will be extracted.

“The main cause of the biodiversity crisis is unsustainable growth in consumption and production, exacerbated by a tendency to undervalue biodiversity and the ecosystem services it supports" ['The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity'].

Undoubtedly one of the keys to understanding the world's future as planned by the UN is partly found in the preceding statement.

Alex’s thrust is to counter the decimating influences of “industrial savagery” of the free market described by author Naomi Klein as 'Disaster Capitalism'.

Current commitments to principles of “sustainable capitalism” are formulated and practiced in the free world by those measures designed to answer the crisis posited in the UN’s statement above.

It will be interesting to see the results of irritating the people of PNG (and the free world ) with the toxic outcomes of industry until they cry out for relief.

And then impose a regime of austerity and taxation upon the water they drink, the electricity for houses, the timber for building the house and the very air they breathe.

That is what the climate change agenda is all about.

Copenhagen sought to impose a regime of world governance upon this planet and was going to do it on the back of levies upon the GDP of nations to finance its aspirations.

The same UN that decries the ravages of Ramu NiCo is the UN that sponsors the very initiatives likely to spell the impoverishment and decline of indigenous societies all over the world.

Yes, Barbara, like you, I too am very impressed with the Harris report.

PNG right now needs more Tiffany Nongorrs and Alex Harris's!

Barbara - Tiffany Nonggorr may soon be the Erin Brokovich of PNG.

Tiffany, of Nonggorr William Lawyers, is the local heroine. I admire her grit, and support what she is doing - like many PNG citizens.

I fear for her because she is the only PNG lawyer (supported by John Nonggorr) with the guts to face the Goliaths (Ramu NiCo & Big Brother in Waigani).

Tiffany is in her element right now and has the local people's interest
at heart. This tough lawyer is a strong tenacious combatant helping the resource owners who are fighting this case in court.

No court order will gag them. It is going to be messy in the next few months with no quarter given, and Tiffany will be in the thick of things all the way.

I was very impressed with Alex Harris' report.

I’m looking at a photo I took in April 2010 of the tailings dam at Newcrest’s Cadia Valley gold and copper mine in Central Western NSW.

It shows how tailings can be contained in a designated zone that can be formed to co-exist with its surroundings, in this case the sere natural beauty of the inland Australian landscape.

Why has Ramu NiCo not been pressed to build a tailings dam for their planned nickel and cobalt mine near Madang?

I was very pleased to read on Malum Nalu’s blog that National Court judge David Cannings had refused to grant an application by Ramu NiCo to lift the interim court injunction the judge granted in March to stop offshore construction of the deep sea tailings placement system.

He evidently extended the injunction until 21 December 2010.

It was mentioned that there is to be another court case in December to hear from five Basamuk plaintiffs about this mine.

Is there any hope left that Ramu NiCo can be forced into disposing of their tailings in a safer manner?

For all us cynics it is interesting to note that Ross Garnaut, of climate change Garnaut Report fame, is also the Chairman of Lihir, one of the polluting companies named by Alex in her blog.

It always amazes me to see old petitioned off political foes in Australia behaving like bosom buddies, and I can't help but think that their previous lives were just some sort of big game with conviction and honesty just a form of facade.

The old adage 'don't believe anything until you see it with your own eyes' is a good one to follow.

Incidentally, Alex says in her report that Bougainville is a matrilineal society with the 'women in charge'.

Sorry to disillusion her, but that simply means that descent and kinship are traced through the female line - the men are in charge.

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