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27 October 2018

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It's interesting to ponder that our Aussie enslavement to British law and the concept of crown mineral rights led to this tragic situation in Bougainville.

What would have happened under an American administration of the trust territory and their law in relation to mineral rights? I'm not holding a flag up for the Yanks, they come with their baggage as well.

Chris Overland struggles with (1) the question of the likelihood of Bougainville autonomy/independence; and (2) adequate profit sharing by a mine operator.

As I commented in an Attitude article months ago, I struggle to see the "Gnomes of Zurich" funding the re-establishment of the mine without "Sovereign Guarantee" which I doubt would ever be given by Australia or the like leaving, in my mind, the only means being through state enterprise development by a country like China.

Even a "China" would think twice taking into consideration PNG's inability to guarantee a secure Bougainville to a mine operator and Bougainville's past demonstrated ability to take up arms and take control of their situation even if it means returning community "ground zero" situation.

Wait till the full potential largess in a latent agreement with say, Chinese miners, is digested by both the PNG and the nascent Bougainville governments.

Take the previous example of the Madang mining situation and impose that on the local Bougainvillians.

What will it take to settle the potential disputes? Another RAMSI? Don't think so. Promise of millions for someone. Yep! But for who?

In reading Bill's account of happenings on and around Bougainville circa 1966, it seems that senior figures in the administration chose to ignore obvious warning signs that the Panguna mine was likely to generate serious discontent amongst the landowners and other key stakeholders.

The wishes, desires and interests of the local people seem to have been largely ignored or down played, with the distant authorities collectively mesmerised by the prospect of the uncommonly large profits to be made, both for BCL and the nascent PNG government.

We all know what happened next.

Now, many years later, it seems to me that the risk of a similar disaster occurring remains undiminished.

I struggle to persuade myself that any PNG government will willingly let go of an opportunity to benefit from the reopening of the mine in favour of an autonomous or even independent Bougainville.

Also, I struggle to see how any prospective operator of the mine will be willing and able to offer the landowners a sufficiently large share of any profits made that can simultaneously satisfy their aspirations and those of the other shareholders.

It is going to take some exceptional negotiating skills on all sides, combined with a generous dose insight, mutual understanding and compromise, for a viable deal to be struck.

Whether this is possible is a matter of conjecture at the moment, but history does not offer much cause of optimism that such an outcome will be achieved.

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