Senator Bob Brown reports on his PNG trip

… world’s first seabed mining operation controlled by robots … I intend to ask the Senate to seek a government inquiry into the process so that we can assess what that means for our own country’s natural marine resources and fisheries into the future.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011 THE SENATE (unproofed Hansard copy)

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (13:08): I wish to follow on from Senator Hutchins’s account of his trip by accounting to the Senate a trip which I took to Papua New Guinea, beginning on Thursday, 28 April. I have wanted to go to this marvellous country, which is our nearest neighbour, for many, many years. …

Mining is a huge industry in Papua New Guinea, and I want to talk about just a couple of the current huge mines proposed in that country. One of them is the Ramu nickel mine east of Madang on the northern mainland of Papua New Guinea. This is largely Chinese owned. It was established on the work of the Australian company, Highlands Pacific, which still has a nine per cent interest and which I understand could increase that to 22 per cent in the future depending on the success of the mine.

The mine has been established well inland from the coast, and a processing factory is established on the coast. This is as a result of a quite huge investment by the Chinese company involved. However, it is held up in the courts because of the intention to simply dump the tailings of this massive mine straight into the ocean.

When I asked the Department of Environment and Conservation in Port Moresby about this—the fact that those tailings are going to be dumped into a sea canyon off the coast—I was unable to elicit any real information about the ecological systems on that marine floor. I got a specious response that the watercourses, particularly when they are in flood, take silt out into the ocean and that this canyon has been receiving that as a matter of natural systems for a long time, so, effectively, what would putting mine tailings on top of it matter? I was horrified by that response.

The matter has been taken up by landowners. Fisheries are very important to large numbers of people in this part of Papua New Guinea—well, the whole of coastal Papua New Guinea, but that includes New Ireland, New Britain and Bougainville to the north and east of the mainland. I understand that a court determination will be made on 23 May. But when I asked the Department of Environment and Conservation if they would take it to appeal if the landowners and environmentalists win there, I did not hear ‘no’ to that.

When I asked if the government would move to legislate to override the court decision on existing law if an appeal is then successful, I again did not get a ‘no’ to it. We must be very fearful that we are looking at a process where even the due implementation of the law, if it were to prevent that dumping of massive amounts of tailings into the ocean, may be overridden by people who have more influence in the governance of Papua New Guinea than the local landowners do.

I was at a forum of non-government organisations in Madang, and it was a very impressive group of people. Present also were local members of parliament Ken Fairweather and Jamie Maxtone-Graham, … I will come back in a moment to Mr Fairweather’s efforts to stop the establishment of a series of fish-canning factories which may put their offal straight out into the ocean if that industrial plant goes ahead close to what is a stunningly beautiful part of the world at Madang …

The representative from New Ireland got up and delivered a most compelling concern about Nautilus Minerals, which is to be the world’s first seabed mining operation controlled by robots. There is a Singaporean ship in the ocean south of New Ireland at the moment, and the divers are down there. This is to be remotely controlled, and it is effectively about bulldozers on the seafloor which extract the minerals that are going to make somebody somewhere wealthy and dump the
results of that mining straight there onto that marine ecosystem. The threats of that form of process are global.

The London Sea Dumping Convention would prevent the Ramu nickel mine from doing what it is doing, and the Australian company would know that. It could not do that in Australia—this is the nickel mine dumping into a canyon. The proponents of Nautilus Minerals have, no doubt, started their experiments off the sea coast for the same reason. They are doing it in Papua and New Guinea, but it is a process coming to affect the oceans of the whole world.

I gave a commitment then and there to the representatives from New Ireland that I would move in this Senate to have an inquiry into deep sea seabed mining, and I intend to ask the Senate to seek a government inquiry into the process so that we can assess what that means for our own country’s natural marine resources and fisheries into the future.

I come back to Mr Fairweather’s petition, which he was handing around at the Catholic university where I spoke in Madang. It is about these sea fisheries and simply says, ‘Statement by Ken Fairweather MP, member for Sumkar, Madang Province. We need a fishing ban on foreign vessels.

Recent suggestions by the European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum Fishing Agency to reduce fishing in our waters by 30 per cent does not do enough. PNG—indeed, the South Pacific—needs a five year ban on all foreign fishing in our waters. It is simple really: (1) PNG gets no real revenue from commercial fishing; and, (2) there are
few fish left in the seas. Tuna schools have collapsed, yet waters off New Ireland and Bougainville are the breeding grounds for tuna. The Kavieng fishing factory —PNG owned and operated—cannot fill its orders. Village fishermen are giving up fishing in despair. The NFA—the National Fishing Authority—says it is going to do a fish stocktake of the seas. Saying it is going to do that is lies and humbug. Go on a boat in the water around Madang; you will not see a seabird or catch a fish,’—and he is referring to the big fish that used to be caught in any amount. Tuna are now an endangered species in PNG waters. We are now forced to set up false reefs and FADs’—fish-attracting devices—’to help villages catch fish. PNG needs a determined inland fish farming program, not lip service and chickenshit money thrown at some mad scheme.’

That is a call by a member of the Papua New Guinea parliament for foreign investors in PNG to respect the idea that the fisheries of PNG, upon which so many million people directly or indirectly rely, be allowed to recover, not be further depleted by a series of projects such as mining and onshore industrial works—indeed, logging affects this as well—which are running down the fisheries of this very important neighbour of ours.