Resource companies are looking at new projects in Fiji, Tonga and Solomon Islands, countries which have little experience with mining, as well as in Papua New Guinea where a minerals boom has been underway for some time.
Oxfam Australia's Mining Advocacy Co-ordinator, Serena Lilywhite, told Jemima Garrett the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative can help small countries keep mining companies honest.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Serena Lilywhite, Mining Advocacy Co-ordinator, Oxfam Australia
LILYWHITE: It is a global initiative to encourage all companies to disclose exactly what they pay to governments in the way of taxes revenues and royalties, from oil, gas and mining projects, and equally, for the governments of those countries to disclose what they receive from the companies themselves. So, in other words, it is a system of checks and balances to try and ensure a much higher level of transparency and understanding of the revenue flows in the extractive sector.
GARRETT: So how does it help small countries cope with powerful mining companies?
LILYWHITE: One of the advantages of the initiative is that by shining a light on those revenue flows, it helps the citizens or the communities that are directly impacted by the mining, get a better understanding of exactly how much money is flowing into the government's coffers, if you like, and it enables them, to then hold their own government to account and to ask questions as to exactly how that money is being spent and to ensure that they are getting a fair share of their natural resources. And they have an opportunity to ensure that the revenues that do flow are being used on the sorts of essential services that they need, such as schools, hospitals, decent roads and basic infrastructure, clean water for example.
GARRETT: Corruption is often a problem in developing countries. Does the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative help governments deal with that sort of problem?
LILYWHITE: It does! It is not the complete answer to the challenges of corruption but, certainly, by having a much higher level of understanding and exposing exactly how the revenues are flowing, that does enable the citizens to ask questions of their government about where money is flowing and also put pressure on them to introduce mechanisms, or rules and laws, that are going to assist in combating corruption, and so it is an important step in combating bribery and corruption.
GARRETT: Sydney will play host to a global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Conference in May. What will that look at exactly?
LILYWHITE: One of the important things, or one of the opportunities, of the Extractive Industry Transparency Conference being held in Sydney, is that it is a really great opportunity for attention to be given to the Pacific. Often Australia's mining activities in the Pacific region don't necessarily get the same level of attention as they do, for example, in the countries of Africa, so playing host to the EITI Conference, in Sydney, is a really good opportunity to ensure that the impact of Australian companies, as well as other foreign companies in the Pacific, is given attention and that we can really start to ask questions of our own mining companies as they operate in countries like the Solomons and PNG, about exactly what deals they are negotiating with the governments of those countries, what level of disclosure there is around the revenues and the taxes that they are paying. And, also, we hope that it will be an opportunity for representatives from Pacific Island countries to come to Sydney to participate in that conference and to tell their story about what it means to live in a community or to live in a village, where there is a large mining, oil or gas project, how that impacts on their livelihoods and that is an important part of the story, not just the corruption and revenue flow aspect.
GARRETT: Australia hasn't signed up yet to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative but it is piloting the Initiative. How is that going?
LILYWHITE: Well, Oxfam would, of course, welcome the Australian government to go straight into an EITI process. Instead, we have a pilot process underway. What that means is that the Australian government is considering whether or not it should fully sign on to the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative or whether, in fact, it is something better suited to a developing country. It is our view that EITI is really important in Australia, not just so Australian citizens have a good idea of our own revenue flows and get a fair share of our own natural resource wealth but, as a mining giant, and as a mining giant in the Pacific region, it is a really good opportunity for the Australian government, as well as Australian mining companies, to lead by example, and send a clear signal that they are really serious about conducting their mining activities in the region to the highest possible standards, and that includes disclosing all payments they make to governments.