CONTROVERSY OVER AUSTRALIAN MINISTER'S VISIT TO PNG MINES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 13, 2000 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Controversy has been sparked by Australian Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill's planned visit to major resource projects while in Papua New Guinea for Silver Jubilee of Independence celebrations.

The Australian High Commission confirmed that Senator Hill is a member of the official Australian delegation to join in the celebrations.

The Sydney-based NGO Mineral Policy Institute expressed concern about Senator Hill’s proposed visit to the Lihir gold project and Highlands Pacific’s planned Ramu nickel/cobalt project.

Mineral Policy Institute spokeswoman Nina Lansbury raised concern over the toxicity of waste material and its impact on the fisheries at Astrolabe Bay in Madang, with expected discharge from the Ramu nickel/cobalt mine when it commences operation.

"NGO’s on both sides of the Coral Sea are calling on the Australian government and Highlands Pacific to not mislead the government of PNG and local people about the potential impacts of the Ramu mine project," said Ursula Rakova of the Environmental Law Center.

Ms. Lansbury said discharging tailings into the sea is becoming a popular option for the mining industry in the Asia Pacific region now that it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince governments to allow waste discharges in local rivers.

She said this practice is not being considered in Australia and the USA.

"We are concerned that Highlands Pacific Ltd., developer of the Ramu nickel and cobalt project, is using the environmental record of the Lihir gold mine to justify submarine tailings discharges at Astrolabe Bay," said Ms. Lansbury.

She said the Mineral Policy Institute had a satellite imagery of Lihir, which she claimed shows a plume of waste spreading out from the mine for several miles.

"This is the ‘normal’ impact at Lihir from waste dumping and submarine tailings discharge," she said. "If this happens in Astrolabe Bay, we fear coastal communities and the fishing industry would be devastated.

"The mine waste can accumulate in fish and humans, and it is known to be toxic.

"It is totally irresponsible to put this waste into the sea. There is no proof of the safety of dumping waste like this."

Ms. Lansbury claimed Senator Hill is expected to give the Ramu project the "all clear" when visiting the project site.

Meanwhile, Highlands Pacific managing director Ian Holzberger confirmed that Senator Hill would visit the Ramu mine site.

However, he criticized the Mineral Policy Institute for comparing the Lihir and Ramu projects.

Mr. Holzberger said that "Ramu is nothing like Lihir and they are both very different projects."

He said Senator Hill’s visit to PNG is being organized by the Australian High Commission.

Both the Office of Environment and Conservation (OEC) and the Australian High Commission confirmed that Senator Hill is representing the Australian government at the independence celebrations.

Senator Hill is expected to visit the University of Technology in Lae and the Ramu nickel and cobalt project in Madang. He is expected to be accompanied by Environment and Conservation's Herowa Agiwa.

Senator Hill is also expected to attend the State Dinner on Friday and the main independence celebrations at the Sir John Guise Stadium on Saturday.

The Post-Courier was unable to get comments from representatives at the Lihir Gold Mine.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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