New Bougainville legislation a world first for landowner rights to minerals | Asia Pacific

New Bougainville legislation a world first for landowner rights to minerals

New Bougainville legislation a world first for landowner rights to minerals

Updated 7 March 2013, 21:42 AEST

In a world first, Papua New Guinea's copper-rich island of Bougainville plans to introduce legislation that will see traditional landowners share mineral rights with their government.

In the 1990's dissatifaction over the sharing of benefits from Rio Tinto's giant Panguna mine, led to a 10-year civil war on Bougainville, which left thousands dead.

As Rio-Tinto prepares for negotiations for the re-opening of the mine President John Momis is adamant it will be on his terms.

Correspondent: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: John Momis, President of the Autonomous government of Bougainville

GARRETT: Since the Bougainville peace agreement was signed the people of this troubled island have been looking for a new kind of development: one that will give them economic self-reliance and a real choice when they hold a referendum on independence from Papua New Guinea sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Bougainville's new mining legislation is due to go to the autonomous region's parliament next week.

President John Momis believes it will be a game-changer.

MOMIS: The underlying philosophy for our new Mining Act is empowering people, giving people the power to make political decisions about development not just being mere passive recipients of benefits.

GARRETT: In a world first the legislation, allows for landowners and the autonomous Bougainville government to share rights to sub-surface minerals. Approval of mining and resolution of disputes is to be done through an all-inclusive Landowner Forum process.

President Momis says landowners will also have a power of veto over exploration.

MOMIS: Our proposed bill gives the landowners the right to veto, veto any exploration which they so believe that the developer and the government are not doing the right thing. They also have the right to object once a development process begins after exploration should the developer and the government decide to go ahead with development.

GARRETT: President John Momis blames Canberra and Rio Tinto for the way mining was set up on Bougainville prior to Papua New Guinea's indpendence from Australia, and as a result also blames them for the civil war.

MOMIS: The Australian government and Rio Tinto at the very beginning of the inception of the talks to develop Panguna mine, later on led to the crisis. You know The Australian government and Rio Tinto in their zeal to generate revenue completely ignored the peoples way of doing things.

GARRETT: What will this legislation mean for Rio tinto's existing mine on bougainville, a mine it is hoping to re-open. Does Rio Tinto need to be worried?

MOMIS: I don't think so. What we are saying is that the resource no longer belongs to the state it belongs to the people and to their own government. Rio Tinto will have to deal with us.

MOMIS: The new mining legislation is being pushed through parliament much faster that expected because a rash of small companies are entering Bougainville without permission and signing up landowers to deals with no legal basis.

President Momis's messge to them is clear.

MOMIS: My message is that they must forthwith stop. That what they are doing is illegal. There is a moratorium imposed in Bougainville and the national government is the only legitimate authority to breach the moratorium.

GARRETT: Rio Tinto has been working with the PNG government, landowners and with the Autonomous Bougainville Government and it may end up being the only miner on Bougainville.

MOMIS: We believe one big mine is sufficient and if pressed we may allow for one more mine. No more. We know there are possibilities but we are making sure that we first of all make proper use of the revenue generated by the Panguna mine and have it equitably distributed. We want to make sure that the current generation, as well as the future generation, after looked after and that we have our own people educated and skilled to handle the problems that the mining process will bring on Bougainville. If we don't then we'll be swamped.

A longer version of this interview will also be available.

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