Thursday, April 06, 2006

Papuans - coming of rage

The Financial Review has a piece today on the place of the Freeport mine in the scheme of things in Papua. This has echoes of Bougainville:

"Titus Natkime, 31, the son of a tribal leader who encountered the first Americans to walk into the wilderness of Papua nearly 50 years ago, is clearly upset with his employer, the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan.

For generations, Natkime's clan has laid claim to much of the land in Papua, the Indonesian province where Freeport mines some of the world's largest copper and gold reserves. Now it is time for a payback.

He brings out a draft document showing Freeport's offer: $US250,000 to set up a foundation for the clan, plus $US100,000 annually, a sizeable amount in Indonesia's most remote and poorest province.

"Why should I accept it?" asks Natkime, who works in the company's government-relations department, although he is hardly an ardent spokesman. "It's an insult." In comparison, he says, Freeport is making tens of millions of dollars every day. In the end, the family accepted the money, he says, but he plans a lawsuit and is demanding royalties.

Such defiance is symptomatic of the growing troubles in Papua, where four people have been killed in recent weeks in protests against Freeport. And it shows that times are changing for multinational companies and governments long used to working out concessions in remote areas with a handshake, over the heads of local people.

In March, Citigroup echoed the theme, saying in a report that such companies could no longer afford to ignore environmental and social issues. "A groundswell of public opinion has caused sustainable development to become a serious business consideration," it said.

Mark Logsdon, an American geochemist who has visited the Freeport mine, agrees. Mining companies must seek and take seriously the "consent of the governed", he says. "Whether in Indonesia, Latin America or Africa, the increase in communications capability means that the essential isolation of resource colonies is largely a thing of the past."

The protests in Papua provide an example of what can happen when a natural resource company, backed by an unpopular central government and a heavy-handed military, fails to pay careful attention to the local people, whose lives have been disturbed and who feel the riches in the ground are theirs, not the foreigners'."

The only response from Australia and Indonesia to the deteriorating situation is to tighten the fence around Australia's north. It is typical of both countries in this context to respond to human rights abuses through further punitive measures against the victims.

This is not going away - Australians have turned their backs on West Papuans for too long. We have given extraordinary comfort to successive militaristic regimes who have systematically disempowered, disinherited and dislocated Papuans in their own land, whilst we hector the rest of melanesia on the values of good governance and government. Our government's hypocrisy knows no bounds....

No comments: