Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Background to the O’Neill-Garnaut stand-off
By MALUM NALU
The stand-off between Australian climate change advisor and chairman of Ok Tedi Mining Ltd, Professor Ross Garnaut, and Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill began on Friday, Nov 2, 2012.
O’Neill accused Garnaut in parliament of insulting the nation's leaders and said Garnaut, who until recently was also chairman of the PNG Sustainable Development Program (PNGSDP) trust, would not be allowed back until control of the mine was given back to the PNG people.
The trust was given ownership of the OK Tedi mine, located in PNG's Western province, by mining giant BHP.
"I will put (Prof Garnaut) on notice that he is no longer welcome to this country," O'Neill told parliament that day.
"He can stay out of PNG and conduct himself.
“ I want it out on record in this parliament that we will not tolerate people of such standing coming in and disrespecting leaders of this country."
O'Neill was infuriated by a report in The Australian by longtime PNG-based journalist Rowan Callick, which quoted Prof Garnaut as saying that with such an accumulation of wealth in PNG, it was "tempting for political figures to think of better ways of using it right now rather than putting it into long-term development".
He accused BHP of running the PNGSDP by remote control from Melbourne and questioned whether PNG had benefited from the project.
"Has it delivered to the expectations of our people, particularly the people of western province?" O’Neill said.
"What have they delivered?
“We have given them a blanket cover, blanket insurance, protection from this parliament that we will never sue them for the damage they have caused to our people.
"We have seen many big announcements about major projects that will change the course of this country over the past 10 years, and yet we have yet to see one of those projects being delivered."
PNG foreign minister Rimbink Pato told a press conference on Nov 7 his department had been directed to ban Prof Garnaut from entering the country.
Pato made the comments after O'Neill said Prof Garnaut was no longer welcome in PNG because of insults to the nation's leaders.
Callick wrote in a follow-up article: “The issue at stake would appear to be control of the Ok Tedi revenues.
“Where should this reside?
“What structure offers the best hopes for effective distribution?
“A recent review of PNGSDP by Australian and PNG academics said its ‘governance arrangements have served it well, and its independence from government, though sometimes a source of tension, is widely recognised as a strength’.
“The O'Neill government has itself supported the creation of a sovereign wealth fund to hold some of the windfall revenues from the gas project -- whose aim is also to keep politicians' hands off.
“Garnaut told The Australian that politicians in PNG may be tempted ‘to think of better ways of using (the Ok Tedi dividends) right now rather than putting it into long-term development’.
“It is very strange that such an uncontroversial comment should place the government at odds with its biggest source of revenue, and potentially with the wider sector on which its future depends.”
O’Neill rubbed salt onto the wound when addressing the Australian National Press Club in Canberra on Nov 27: "As a leader of the country I cannot stand by and allow comments like those to continue.
"It was irresponsible.
“He has to take ownership of that statement."
O'Neill said his government had sought an explanation.
"Some of the explanations he's given to us are not acceptable to us.”