A research paper released today by Jubilee Australia Research Centre assessing changes proposed to Bougainville's mining laws has found that the amendments undermine the principle of landowner consent, and could lead to significant impacts on the rights of the people of Bougainville and their environment.
The research paper, Blank Cheque, assessed a package of three bills introduced in 2019 by the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) to amend Bougainville's mining laws. It is based on expert legal advice about the proposed changes.
"The proposed legislation would severely undermine the existing rights of landowners, especially in relation to their right to free, prior and informed consent," said Dr Luke Fletcher, Executive Director of the Jubilee Australia Research Centre. "If passed into law, this legislation could effectively give away a huge amount of customary land without due process or consent."
Other findings of the report include:
- The proposed legislation is vague and unclear as to the financial benefits available to landowners;
- The legislation is ambiguous about the environmental assessment process; and
- The legislation risks the establishment of a virtual monopoly where one mining company controls much of the island's mineral leases.
The paper also finds that proposed laws could also violate aspects of the Bougainville Constitution, including: the protection from unjust deprivation of property; the recognition of traditional systems government; requirements to meet the environmental needs of present and future generations; and on other human rights provisions. Moreover, the proposed laws could violate international human rights law, and principles of due diligence that are key to international environmental law.
"The fact that there are so many potential constitutional violations goes to show how ill-drafted this legislation is," said Dr Fletcher.
The paper comes on the back of the April report by the Human Rights Law Centre, After the Mine, which identified significant and ongoing environmental damage at the abandoned Panguna site, including contaminated water sources, land and crops flooded by toxic mud and health problems ranging from skin diseases and respiratory problems to pregnancy complications. The mine also played a central role in the eight-year long Bougainville civil war.
"As Bougainville moves towards independence, it is imperative that the new country not return to a time where insufficient protections made a tragedy like the Panguna tailings disaster possible," said Dr Fletcher.
The briefing paper is available here:
The legislative package includes the the Bougainville Mining (Amendment) Bill 2019; Bougainville Advance Holdings Trust Authorisation Bill 2019; and Bougainville Advance Mining Holdings Limited Authorisation Bill 2019. The Bills can be viewed in full at the ABG, Department of Minerals and Energy Resources' website: (accessed 29 January 2020).
The bills were subject to parliamentary committee inquiry and report in June 2019, and critiqued as 'poorly drafted, ambiguous and drawn up without meaningful public consultation'.
The proposed amendments were deferred until after the referendum. The proposed amendments continue to be on hold in light of delays to Bougainville's elections following the Covid crisis. Writs are anticipated to be issued for Bougainville's next parliamentary elections on 17 June.
Jubilee Australia Research Centre has published a number of research papers on Bougainville over the years, including Devil in the Detail, about the 2015 Bougainville Mining Act, and Growing Bougainville's Future, about Bougainville's economic alternatives to a mining-centred development strategy.