The Centre's resolution, put to the Bougainville Copper annual meeting in Port Moresby was overwhelmingly defeated. but the Centre's Executive Director, Caroline Le Couteur, says that if you exclude the vote by major stakeholder Rio Tinto, it is clear the majority of votes cast favoured the appointment of a jurist.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Caroline le Couteur, Executive Director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility says it is encouraged that most Bougainville Copper shareholders are in favour of appointing an independent jurist to investigate the company's involvement in counter-insurgency activities during the Bougainville civil war.
The Centre's resolution, put to the Bougainville Copper annual meeting in Port Moresby was overwhelmingly defeated
LE COUTEUR: The majority of ordinary shareholders who voted actually voted in favour of … resolution, so I think what that shows is that among the people who are following what’s happening in Bougainville, and that of course includes quite a few people, residents there, there’s still substantial concern that the wounds of the past have not been healed, and that we need a better process to heal them before any resolution can be achieved.
GARRETT: Rio Tinto has a 53 per cent shareholding, so it’s obviously the crucial player here. Do you know why Rio Tinto voted against the motion?
LE COUTEUR: I think Rio Tinto’s view is that it will make whatever decisions it makes internally as it were, and it won’t be signalling them into sort of public meeting like an ATM. We actually me with Rio Tinto staff last weeks, and that’s basically what they said, that they weren’t going to vote to say anything to the board, they would do whatever they did internally.
GARRETT: The Papua New Guinea government also has a major shareholding in Bougainville Copper, it was a combatant in the civil war, but of course has signed a peace deal. How did the PNG government vote?
LE COUTEUR: Well they didn’t vote and I find that really astounding. As you say they’re a major shareholder, their citizens are the people who are affected by whatever happens in Bougainville. And for them to have no opinion on this is quite strange. I also note that they didn’t vote in last year’s annual general meeting and they seem to have a history of not being involved. And I think from the point of view of the people’s PNG to whom presumably they hold these shares in trust, this is disappointing.
GARRETT: You had another resolution before the Bougainville Copper annual general meeting seeking to get Bougainville Copper to sign up to some international human rights and environmental standards. That did less well than the resolution for the appointment of a jurist. What do you put that down to?
LE COUTEUR: I put that down to the fact that probably most people there had not heard of the various international standards, and so it wasn’t as meaningful. I have however talked to people after the annual general meeting about it, and most of them thought that it could be a positive step forward for establishing trust, but also some people felt that it really wasn’t appropriate until a decision to mine was actually made. Whereas the second resolution clearly is appropriate now before any decision is made.
GARRETT: You actually got less than one per cent of the vote. How can you be encouraged by that?
LE COUTEUR: Well the reason why I can be encouraged is that the people of the ordinary shareholders, that is excluding Rio Tinto and the PNG government, of the ordinary shareholders who are concerned enough about what happened to actually vote, we got a majority of those people. They were the people who were most likely to vote for our resolution, and I think what the vote shows is that of the people who care about and are following what’s happening in Bougainville, they realise that the situation hasn’t normalised, there’s still a lot of work that has to be done so that Bougainville Copper can regain trust in the Bougainville community. And that’s what the resolutions are aiming to achieve.
GARRETT: Where will you be taking the issue from here?
LE COUTEUR: I anticipate that we will be back at next year’s Bougainville Copper annual general meeting. I also anticipate that we’ll continue dialogue with people we’ve already been speaking to, plus the new contacts we made as a result of the annual general meeting.
GARRETT: It’s quite expensive to sign up to things like this. Why is it worth it for Bougainville Copper?
LE COUTEUR: The reason it would be worth it is because they need to demonstrate that if they re-open the mine it won’t have the problems that it had last time. These international conventions have been put in place because of disasters like the Bougainville Copper Mine. And they’ve been put in place to stop them happening again, that is the reason it would be worthwhile for Bougainville Copper to sign up. One thing I suggested to some of the directors afterwards that maybe the compromise Bougainville Copper could commit that if and when the mine is re-opened, it would sign up at that point of time.