Bougainville: To mine or not to mine?
As Bougainville plans for its long-awaited independence referendum scheduled for the middle of next year, the Panguna mine – which was once one of the largest copper-gold mines in the world until the Bougainville civil war forced its closure in 1989 – remains at the forefront of debates about Bougainville’s economic future.
Jubilee Australia’s report ‘Growing Bougainville’s Future: Choices for an Island and its people’ examines the choice facing the people of Bougainville and asks the question of ‘to mine or not to mine’?
The political consensus that large-scale mining offers the only feasible developmental path for Bougainville has led to a scenario in which there has been an insufficient analysis of potential alternative economic strategies. Jubilee Australia aims to redress this imbalance.
The report reflects on the possibilities and realities of an extractives-led development path for Bougainville and examines the availability and viability of an alternative path. In short, we conclude that alternatives to large-scale mining do exist and that many Bougainvilleans are already participating in and developing these alternatives.
Some of the conclusions in ‘Growing Bougainville’s future’ are:
- Land is of central importance to Bougainvilleans, and along with Bougainvillean’s history, knowledge, social institutions, cultural assets and traditional economy, can provide a vital foundation on which Bougainville’s future can be built.
- Land supports a way of life that most rural Bougainvilleans are already living. Land allows people to operate within a mixed economy that blends the non-cash contributions of the traditional economy with cash earned from small-scale income generating activities.
- Agriculture is the single most important source of livelihoods for Bougainvilleans, and an economy based on agriculture has the potential to benefit all Bougainvilleans – both women and men – and not just a small minority.
- The Panguna mine is unlikely to be a significant source of government revenues, at least in the short to medium term.
- An over-reliance on the mining oil and gas sector is likely to distort Bougainville’s economy making it harder for non-resource sector exports – particularly in agriculture – to bring in revenues, as is the case in Papua New Guinea.
This report is being published along with a short film, Bougainville: Long Han Blong Yumi (Bougainville: It's In Our Hands). The film has been made for a Bougainvillean audience and explores many of the same issues explored in the report. You can find the video here.
Dr. Ruth Saovana-Spriggs, from the Bougainville People's Research Centre Said: “Re-opening the Panguna mine is not the solution. The people of Bougainville are hungry for alternative and sustainable development paths, and an informed and balanced debate about Bougainville's future.”
Christina Hill, Acting Executive Director of Jubilee Australia said: “Properly supported, innovative approaches that build on what is already done have the potential to support inclusive economic growth in Bougainville and with it increase government revenues.”
Contact: Christina Hill (+61) 02 8286 9706