O’Neill said BHP Billiton needed to get over its “colonial era” mentality and appreciate that Papua New Guinea was an independent nation, and negotiate with Papua New Guinea in a mature and reasonable way as numerous other Australian resource companies did.
“Instead of seeking the intervention and assistance of the Australian government, the company should negotiate with my government, and me, as prime minister,” O’Neill said.
“The article claims that I had blocked the granting or extension of exploration licences because it would not agree with my proposals regarding the determination of the board of PNG Sustainable Development Program.
“This is totally and utterly false. It is just dishonest.
“BHP Billiton surrendered the licences entirely on its own accord. It did so when it made a decision early last year not to invest in Papua New Guinea – after I had personally invited the company to meet with senior cabinet ministers, including myself, and to consider investing in PNG.
“We did everything possible to encourage the company, just as we encourage and assist other major investors all the time.
“They decided not to take up the offer. That occurred before the mid-year elections, and eight or nine months before I made my comments on Prof Ross Garnaut,” he said.
O’Neill said the central issue was not Garnaut and his inaccurate comments on why he wanted the issues surrounding the way the board of PNGSDP was appointed to be changed.
“The central issue is this: 11 years ago, BHP Billiton was done an enormous favour by the then PNG government and allowed to exit ownership of the Ok Tedi Mine without accepting any financial or moral responsibility for the enormous environmental and social damage that occurred in the 20 years it operated the mine,” he said.
“Surely, 11 years on, there can be no reasonable case made out to justify BHP Billiton continuing to exercise effective control over the PNGSDP and the Ok Tedi mine.
“The claim by BHP Billiton and by Garnaut that I want the PNG government to get its hands on the funds of the PNGSDP is personally offensive.
“All I have sought, and will continue to seek, is negotiations that can lead to BHP Billiton ending a role that it is not justified to continue to play.
“My position is supported by my government, and I believe by the national parliament and the people of the Fly River province,” he said.
O’Neill said BHP Billiton should reflect on the appalling environmental damage that occurred during its management of the Ok Tedi mine, and the terrible consequences for the people of the Fly River area – consequences which continue to be felt today.
“The PNG government of the day decided just over a decade ago to legislate to allow BHP Billiton to walk away from any responsibility for the damage that was caused during its management of the mine.”
O’Neill said he rejected the claims in the article that his position was damaging the PNG investment climate.
“This is total nonsense. Last month I addressed 1,400 mining, oil and gas leaders, and financiers and analysts in Sydney at the annual PNG Mining and Petroleum Conference.
“At that conference, there was strong confidence expressed about PNG as a country in which to invest, and in the range of policies we have in place.”