Lukautim solwara bilong yumi Tok Pisin

Today, three organisations filed a complaint against two Australian-based mining companies, Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold (Australia), over the proposal to dump toxic mining waste into the Huon Gulf in PNG’s Morobe Province. The companies are seeking to have a Special Mining Lease approved for the project, the Wafi Golpu Mine,by 2 December 2022 - less than a month from now.

The complaint has been lodged with the Australian National Contact Point for Responsible Business Conduct (or AusNCP) asserting that Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold (Australia) have breached the Guidelines. 

The complaint has been lodged by three organisations–Jubilee Australia, the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG (ELC-PNG). It has been lodged on behalf of 2,596 community members in Morobe Province. The lodgement coincides with Newcrest’s Annual General Meeting in Melbourne today. 

The complaint alleges that:

  • The companies have failed to obtain community consent for the proposed use of Deep Sea Tailings Placement (DSTP).

  • The companies have failed to provide an adequate environmental assessment of the proposed approach. 

  • The companies have failed to respect human rights, including the right to life with dignity, the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, the right to culture, the principles of equality and non-discrimination and the rights of the child; and

  • There has been a lack of due process in regards to Free Prior and Informed Consent from the impacted communities.

“We don’t want our children and grandchildren to be left with a dead sea. We don’t want toxic chemicals and heavy metals to make them sick, and unable to make an income. We are standing firm, we do not want to leave this legacy for the next generation.”  said Reverend Yasam Aiwara,  Head of Jabem District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG

“Time and time again we in PNG have seen foreign mining companies, including Australian companies, treat our land, rivers and oceans as a dumping ground for their waste,” said Mr Peter Bosip, Executive Director of CELCOR. “This project must not go ahead without more research into alternative options for waste management.”

“As Newcrest’s shareholders sit down to their AGM, they should be aware that the company is trying to push through an environmentally destructive solution to the waste management for this mine. ” said Emily Mitchell, Research Director at Jubilee Australia. “An alternative must be sought that has the support of the impacted communities.”

Human rights complaint

A copy of the full complaint is available here.

 Background Information about the organisations lodging the complaint:

Jubilee Australia Research Centre is a Sydney-based environmental and human rights organisation that works across Australia and the Pacific region. 

The Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR) is a non-profit NGO organisation based in Port Moresby. It uses Law and Advocacy to Promote and Defend Environmental and Customary Rights of Papua New Guineans. 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea is a religious organisation that connects with congregations across 17 Districts and 7 Departments. It is one of the largest church organisations in PNG.

Summary of the complaint:

The Australian companies, Newcrest Mining and Harmony Gold are partners in a collective project, the Wafi-Golpu Joint Venture. This is a gold and copper mine advanced exploration project that, if approved, is set to be one of the largest mines to ever be approved in Papua New Guinea. 

 The Notifiers and Complainants are opposed to the companies’’ plans for the dumping of toxic mining waste into the ocean of the Huon Gulf at Wagang. The mining waste is proposed to be transported from the mine to the sea through a 130 km pipeline stretching through the earthquake-prone city of Lae, across floodplain-prone agricultural lands, and into the ocean of the Huon Gulf at a quantity of 360 million tonnes across the mine’s 28 year lifespan. This waste amounts to 245 times the amount of Sydney’s total drinking water across all 5 catchment areas, or about twice the amount of water held within Sydney Harbour. This method of discarding toxic waste is called ‘Deep Sea Tailings Placement’ or DSTP, despite the fact that the waste will be dumped in shallow waters just off the coast. The use of DSTP is not practiced in Australia, and is used by only 15 mines in the world. 

Information has emerged that an independent review of the DSTP proposal by an eminent Marine scientist, Professor Ralph Mana, during the environmental assessment process has found that the location is not suitable for the DSTP and the dumping of the tailings will cause serious and permanent damage to the local ecosystem. The complaint also raises concerns that the proposed pipeline could affect communities living within Lae, which the pipeline passes through, a growing urban city that is built along an earthquake-prone faultline area.

 The Notifiers and Complainants are concerned that they and other communities along the Huon Gulf have not been adequately consulted or informed regarding the potential risks of the project, impacting the lives of an estimated 400,000 people. Community members are concerned about the impacts of DSTP on marine ecosystems, on their livelihoods, on their health, and the legacy that will be left for future generations. The communities have grave concerns, which have been substantiated by Professor Mana’s review, that the DSTP proposal by the Enterprises will, in effect, transform their precious marine environment as a dumping ground for the mine’s toxic tailings. 

Background Information about the AusNCP:

The AusNCP is an OECD-mandated complaints mechanism that is housed in the federal department of Treasury. It is obliged to assess the validity of complaints against the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises. If the complaint is accepted, the NCP will appoint one of its Independent Examiners to the case.

One year ago, Jubilee Australia and Project Sepik lodged a similar complaint to the AusNCP about the proposed Frieda River Mine in PNG’s Sepik region by the Brisbane-based Pan Aust. The complaint was accepted in July 2022 and is currently under investigation. As with the Wafi Golpu, the Sepik complaint centred around the questions of Free, Prior and Informed Consent and concerns around the environmental impacts of the project.

The AusNCP also accepted a complaint against mining giant Rio Tinto’s and its abandoned Panguna Mine on the island of Bougainville, and the ongoing impacts of the failed tailings management system on the river system. The complaint, brought by the Human Rights Law Centre on behalf of around 150 signatories from the mine area, resulted in Rio Tinto and the complainants agreeing to a study of the environmental damage with the intention of cleaning up the river.