Australian mine operators OceanaGold and Lafayette face community opposition in the Philippines

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 07 Nov 2007

Oxfam has renewed calls for Australian based mining companies OceanaGold and Lafayette to ensure that they have the consent of mine affected communities for their activities in the Philippines and for an independent investigation into a fishkill on the island where Lafayette operates. The call comes in the wake of increased community opposition to the proposed Didipio mine which was demonstrated by the election of a predominantly anti mining local council, and as a third fishkill was reported on Rapu Rapu island that many fear may be linked to the activities of the Lafayette mine.
Just one month after Oxfam Australia launched its report detailing allegations of strong-arm tactics by Australian stock exchange-listed company OceanaGold, members of the Didipio community have elected a new local council that is dominated by councilors opposed to the mining project. Six of the seven democratically elected officials ran their election campaigns on the basis of their opposition to the mine and have received the overwhelming support of the community. “It is impossible to ignore; this community is making as clear as possible its view that the OceanaGold proposed mine does not match the development objectives for the whole community” stated the Oxfam Australia Mining Ombudsman, Shanta Martin. In the past week, the Philippine Environment Secretary, Lito Atienza, also visited the area and was overwhelmed by a deluge of complaints and statements rejecting large-scale mining in the province. He reportedly intends to enquire into whether OceanaGold’s mine in Didipio properly consulted with local communities.
At the same time, local community members on the tiny island of Rapu Rapu in the Philippines are also expressing their opposition to Melbourne-based company, Lafayette, following a fishkill on the island in the last week. Some community members insist that the fishkill is worse than two previous ones, which led to the suspension of the Australian-owned mine in 2005.
Hundreds of local residents, most of whom depend on fishing for their livelihoods, gathered at the Rapu Rapu Municipal Council demanding the closure of Lafayette’s mine and provision of immediate assistance and compensation to affected communities.
Ms Martin visited the Lafayette mine and local communities in March this year. “Company representatives accept that two prior fishkills in 2005 were caused by cyanide-laden spillages from Lafayette’s operations, however the company maintains it is not responsible for the effect on fisherfolk,” said Ms Martin.
The company states that the most recent fishkill is not a result of their operations. “It is essential that local communities and community organisations sceptical of the company’s assurances are part of an independent investigation into the cause of the most recent fishkill,” stated Ms Martin. “Lafayette should encourage and assist an independent investigation so as to improve their relationship with the communities and ensure that affected communities are able to have their grievances heard and addressed.”
Oxfam Australia is concerned that the cash-strapped company and its financiers, which currently include the ANZ bank, ensure the company respects the human rights of local people and protects the fragile marine environment. As a signatory to the Equator Principles, the ANZ has committed to managing social and environmental risk in project financing and should undertake an immediate review to ensure that the mine is meeting high environmental and social standards.
The Australian Government currently does not ensure that Australian mining companies operating overseas respect international human rights and environmental standards. “We call upon the Australian Government to take seriously its human rights obligations and ensure Australian mining companies operating overseas are more accountable. All individuals and peoples are entitled to protection of their human rights and Australia can and should play a far greater role in securing compliance by Australian companies with international human rights and environmental standards when operating overseas,” added Ms Martin.
These events in the Philippines follow closely the inaugural Pacific Region Meeting of the International Women and Mining Network last week in which women from mine affected communities in the Asia Pacific region called for protection of waterways and greater control by Australia of Australian mining companies operating in the region.
For more information, to arrange an interview with Shanta Martin, or for a copy of the Statement of the First Pacific Region Meeting of the International Women and Mining Network in Madang, Papua New Guinea, 24-26 October 2007, call Vedran Drakulic on + 61 (0)409 960 100