Plundering six continents

July 10, 1991

By David Robie

Plunder!
By Roger Moody
Published by People Against RTZ and its Subsidiaries (PARTIZANS), London, and Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), Christchurch, NZ. 1991. A$12.50
Reviewed by David Robie

Bougainville's rebellion and secession have become pointers to the future for Pacific indigenous landowners stripped of their rights. The term "to Bougainville" is already a new lexicon among people confronting mining companies and has serious implications for Fiji — where a strike has crippled Vatukoula gold mine — New Caledonia and Aboriginal land in Australia.

Roger Moody, activist-author of this controversial new book, argues that opposition is growing among indigenous groups to the ravages inflicted by international mining companies, particularly the British-based Rio Tinto Zinc. He says two major focal points for opposition to RTZ are in Papua New Guinea and the United States.

The Bougainville Revolutionary Army succeeded in closing Panguna copper mine and the island has been declared a republic. And, at the Flamebeau copper mine in Wisconsin, a coalition of farmers, environmentalists, political groups and indigenous activists defeated a proposal by RTZ to develop a mine.

"By working together and putting the spotlight on RTZ's high-handed disregard for the land, people and laws of the world", says Moody, "opponents have been able to create some semblance of accountability and to protect themselves against some of RTZ's worst misdeeds."

Described as the driving force behind the group People Against Rio Tinto Zinc and its Subsidiaries (PARTIZANS), set up in 1978 to fight for indigenous landowner groups, Moody is also coordinator of the London-based Minewatch, which monitors the international activities of mining conglomerates. He recently toured the South Pacific region and visited mine sites on ancestral Aboriginal land.

Plunder! chronicles RTZ — the corporation he brands the "British mining monster" — which has mineral interests in every continent except the Antarctic. It is a damning exposé of the mining industry's worst exploiter of indigenous lands.

With 52 mines in 40 countries, RTZ is the world's largest mining corporation. Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA Ltd) is a subsidiary of RTZ and in turn is principal owner of Bougainville Copper Ltd. CRA five years ago discovered the Mt

Kare gold mine in the PNG Highlands, which was recently the target of a bloodless protest raid by a provincial MP and seven armed landowners.

The 196-page book's longest chapter deals with CRA, Aboriginal and Maori land and Bougainville. "It is hardly feasible to condense the history of CRA into less than a major book", says Moody. "For this is the largest company within the RTZ group and in 1989 it provided nearly a quarter of RTZ's profits." Measured by market captalisation, CRA ranks sixth among the world's mining corporations.

"RTZ may be the world's most criticised miner, but CRA is more responsible than any other of its units for the desecration of indigenous land and culture. For more than a decade Rossing Uranium may have flagrantly violated international law, but Comalco [67 per cent CRA-owned] has, for far longer, successfully cajoled, deceived and browbeaten legislators over a whole continent. Rio Algom may have been a bigger and more efficient producer of uranium, but CRA could be producing yellowcake long after Rio Algom's mines have been closed. RTZ's smelting plants may have aroused more ire than CRA's — yet the Australian operations are bigger and more important. The parent company may be the most diversified mining company in the world, but CRA runs a close second."

"Don't CRAp on our land!" was a slogan coined by the Aboriginal Mining Information Centre in 1981. This slogan, according to Moody, neatly encapsulated the reality: "CRA has been more responsible for the encroachment on the land of Australia's original owners and the implicit denial of their land rights, than any other mining company".

Nine Aboriginal delegates have attended RTZ annual general meetings during the past decade to focus international attention on CRA's activities and plans. CRA was the first mining company in Australia against which the major land councils called a boycott — for its violation of ancestral land at Lake Argyle and at Noonkanbah.

Moody has been the subject of a smear campaign in Australia over his outspoken criticisms. During his recent tour, PARTIZANS and Moody were accused by a Perth newspaper of giving material and training assistance to the Bougainville Revolutionary Army; he personally had supposedly gone to the Western Desert to train Aboriginal people in tactics used by the BRA.

"That accusation, ludicrous as it was, was put in the mouth of an anthropologist who is no friend of the Aboriginal people", he says.

In New Zealand, Moody believes it is clear that Comalco has

"treated the New Zealand people — Pakeha and Maori alike — as if New Zealand was a Third World country." (Many insist that it is fast becoming one!) But he adds that there is a paradox in that, as land protesters squeeze companies like RTZ and CRA, the more likely they are to move to other Pacific countries and territories — such as PNG, Fiji and New Caledonia.

Moody claims that it is Bougainville Copper Ltd which, of all CRA's many enterprises, has best illustrated the degree to which the company is "prepared to exploit indigenous people" and virtually wreck a major ecosystem. The destruction of Weipa and Mapoon, he adds, runs a close second.

"The savage irony is, of course, that no meaningful compensation will be provided to the Bougainville people, unless the mine resumes profitable production", says Moody. "Yet, were CRA/BCL to adequately fund the mammoth task of cleaning up the Jaba valley and rehabilitating the devastated land, its profits would be set at nought. The people of Bougainville have been locked into a vicious circle from which there is apparently no real escape."

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