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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2265

Senator BOB BROWN (TasmaniaLeader 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. This was the first time I did, and I spent four days with my partner, Paul Thomas, in that country. At the outset we received a remarkably warm welcome from Dorothy Tekwie, who was, on that or the next day, elected as the President of the Papua New Guinea Green Party. Dorothy Tekwie was in Australia just a few months ago and toured many states, including my home state of Tasmania. She made an enormous impression on everybody who met her and who listened to her speak about the problems confronting her home country.

Indeed, I think it was a call to Australia, their wealthier neighbours to the south, to take a little bit more notice of what is happening in Papua New Guinea affairs. It is an independent country which is resource rich, and in many ways, including that one, it has parallels with this country of ours. What is notable is the extraordinary power of the mining corporations and the logging corporations which are currently operating and intending to operate in Papua New Guinea. They are making decisions outside that country but being facilitated by a political system where corruption is not a foreign entity but is part of the process.

I met with the Acting Deputy High Commissioner for Australia, John Feakes, shortly after arriving. We were later to meet the High Commissioner, Ian Kermish, and we had the services of Tim Bryson from the commission who, by the way, along with the High Commissioner, grew up in Papua New Guinea. They are very well placed to be representing Australia in that country and I thank them for their assistance.

We spent two days in Port Moresby and two days in Madang. I want to give some of my impressions in the short time that is available on matters that we do not often hear aired in this chamber. Firstly, Papua New Guinea, as we all know, has been a functioning democracy since, during the Whitlam years, Australia handed across the reins of self-government. There are just over 100 members of parliament and only one of them is a woman: Dame Carol Kidu. I met her at a meeting of the United Nations organisation in Port Moresby. In fact, we were hosted by the United Nations Development Program there, and the Papua New Guinea Council of Women were in strong attendance.

Dame Carol told me about the progress of a bill for 22 places to be allocated to women in future parliaments to try to redress this imbalance. I was able to point out that for the first time in six years following the last election Australia's representation of women in parliament has fallen below 30 per cent. However, it is a very different situation to there being a solitary woman in the Papua New Guinea parliament. Dame Carol will not mind me saying publicly—she made no bones about it there—that after three terms she will not be standing at the next election. I wish well the women and the men behind the move to have this legislation through the parliament in time for the next elections next year—and this includes the Prime Minister of New Guinea, Prime Minister Somare, who was recovering from heart surgery in Singapore while I was in the country; I wish him well.

I got a very good briefing from Margaret Lokoloko and other members of the PNG Council of Women at the reception. They are remarkable advocates for the representation of women in their parliament and I hope they have success. The bill was gazetted just before I went to Port Moresby and it is in the hands of a parliamentary debate. I would say to the men of the Papua New Guinea parlia­ment, as a man of the parliament here in Australia, that nothing but good can come from having an increased representation of women in the parliament, if my experience of 15 years in this parliament—and before that 10 years in the Tasmanian parliament—is anything to go by. It is not just a counter­balancing contribution to parliament; having more women in the parliament lifts the standard of parliament's debate, content and representation of the people. ining 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, and I thank Mr Fairweather for a night's accommodation at the local seaside hotel, which was most enjoyable. We had a swim in the ocean and it was not until the next day that I was asked if I saw any salties while I was out there. Apparently there are a few saltwater crocodiles around. They cannot have been hungry or close enough, or I may not have been delivering this talk to you today. Actually, there were plenty of other people fishing and so on in the ocean. It is a big atoll, and just fascinating. 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.

I thank the Senate for listening to this brief of the trip to PNG, and my heartfelt thanks goes to all the hosts in that beautiful, wonderful country to our north, with whom we should be much more fruitfully engaged.