|Neville "Chappy" Williams reads Barrick's "Responsibility" Report after flying from Australia to condemn Barrick at their Annual General Meeting in Toronto, Canada. Barrick mines on Wiradjuri sacred ground at their Lake Cowal mine in Australia. Williams, a traditional owner and Wiradjuri elder, is the spokesperson for a group that holds the only continuing Native Title claim to that area. photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner|
"There is no business today of any scope, of any size, in a
civilized society that can make false claims without being exposed to
– Peter Munk, Chairman and Founder, Barrick Gold
Norway's Ministry of Finance announced
January 30 that it would exclude mining giant Barrick Gold from the
country's pension fund for ethical reasons. One week later, another
victory against Barrick in Australia occurred when a judge ruled
in favor of Wiradjuri Traditional Owner, Neville "Chappy" Williams, in
granting an injunction restraining the proposed expansion of Barrick
Gold's mine in Lake Cowal, New South Wales. More significant than the
$200 million divested from Barrick, or the delay in Lake Cowal mine's
expansion, is the context that these rulings expose: one of deliberate
deceit on the part of Barrick Gold, now Canada's largest
While the Norwegian Council of Ethics full recommendation
mentions conflicts involving Barrick in Chile, Tanzania, and the
Philippines, the panel acknowledged that, "due to limited resources,"
it restricted its investigation of Barrick to the Porgera mine in Papua
New Guinea. The Porgera mine has been a prime target for criticism
because Barrick dumps its mine waste directly into the river system, a
practice banned in almost every country in the world.
Barrick boasts in its Porgera Mine Responsibility Report
that its "environmental specialists routinely monitor the land, air and
water," claiming that environmental performance data tables are
available on its website.
However, Norway's Council on Ethics found – after multiple requests – that
Barrick "does not publish any figures relating to the discharges from
the Porgera mine and provides little information in general on the
environmental aspects of the operation."
Thus, relying on data from 1999, instead of discrediting Barrick's
claims that it "follows a government-approved environmental management
and monitoring program," the Council criticized the standards of that
program and noted that there is only one compliance point –165 km
downstream from the mine.
The Council also found Barrick's claim that "there are no
irreversible significant and adverse chemical impacts on this river
system" was not credible, noting that "all surveys [that the Council]
has had access to show an unambiguous trend of elevated heavy metal
concentrations in the sediments."
Barrick asserts that "health risk assessments and medical
assessments of downriver populations have been conducted and interim
reports are posted from time-to-time. [Barrick does] not believe that
there is evidence of health risks to the downstream populations."
Not only was the Council unable to find any scientific reports on human health
since Barrick started to manage the mine. But, through it's own
investigations of the mine site, the Council found that those living
near the mine site were in direct contact with mine waste: through
footpaths, gardens, alluvial mining, and water collection facilities.
In addition, the Council noted that local residents themselves have
"no access to information regarding the content of hazardous substances
in the tailings, air emissions and air quality, or the quality of the
"Barrick's operation of the Porgera mine entails an unacceptable
risk of extensive and irreversible damage to the natural environment…
reinforced by the lack of openness and transparency in the company's
environmental reporting," reads the Council's final report.
"It's unbelievably embarrassing," admits Canada's Green Party deputy leader Adriane Carr. "It's
got to be bad news for Canada when a foreign government says it's going
to sell its shares in a Canadian company they figure is unethical."
All the more embarrassing is that Barrick's chairman Peter Munk recently received the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor.
Within a few weeks of Norway's announcement, the Porgera MP Phillip Kikala made calls to impose a state of emergency
in Porgera, motivated by situation reports presented to him by Barrick
(PNG) Limited. The National Executive Council has now made a call out
for a combined defense force and police operation in Porgera including
five mobile forces and one platoon at a cost of $12 million PNG Kina (~$4 million).
According to ABC Australia,
"Armed men have been holding up trucks carrying supplies for the mine
and businesses in Porgera." But Jethro Tulin of Porgera Alliance, a
coalition of landowners and human rights defenders, believes that the
real lawlessness is the environmental and human rights abuses committed
by Barrick Gold. In a press statement, he demands
that the PNG government and Barrick "immediately start to address
the catastrophic problem pro-actively rather than over reacting with
high level security installations and branding it has a law and order
problem. Calling a State of Emergency is not the right method to fix
these extensive and irreversible damages, the ordinary people are
already victims of what has gone wrong."
Protecting Wiradjuri cultural heritage, Barrick-style
week following Norway's divestment, Barrick had another setback when
the proposed expansion of their Lake Cowal mine was turned down in New
South Wales' Land and Environment Court.
Barrick spokesman Bill Shallvey said
that the company would appeal against the decision, adding that the
company had taken the appropriate avenues to seek approval to modify
the gold mine.
But history reveals a different story.
the third injunction that Wiradjuri Elder Neville "Chappy" Williams has
won against Barrick Gold. Before Barrick constructed the mine, Williams
won an injunction on the grounds that the Wiradjuri relics were being damaged without any "Consent to Destroy."
The latest injunction is a small victory in relation to the larger
struggle for Native Title recognition in the Lake Cowal Area.
who applied for this and previous injunctions, is also the spokesperson
for the Mooka/Kalara United Families claim group, which represents over
3,000 Wiradjuri people.
Since 2002, they have been fighting the New South Wales government
over the native title to the Lake Cowal area, where Barrick is mining
an ancient ephemeral lake and Wiradjuri sacred site.
negotiated in secret with five unauthorized Wiradjuri," Williams
explained to a room full of shareholder's at Barrick's Annual General
meeting last year.
"Barrick claims a good record in negotiating with Wiradjuri, but
this is not true and the main negotiator, Percy Knight, was on a suspended sentence for fraud
when he signed the deal. Now, the entire Wiradjuri nation is supposedly
bound to this agreement but no one else can see it, even though we have
tried to get a copy under Freedom of Information."
The group that Barrick had negotiated with, the "Wiradjuri
Condobolin Native Title Claim Group" (later renamed "The Wiradjuri
People") received an undisclosed amount of financial compensation for
ceding their consent to mine the area. This gives all new meaning to Percy Knight's statement that "the Wiradjuri people and Barrick enjoy 'a mutually beneficial relationship'."
Williams has made several attempts
to get a copy of the ancillary deed and other documents like a full
inventory of artefacts collected at Lake Cowal, but Barrick claims that
the deed is "Commercial-in-Confidence."
"The Wiradjuri People" have since discontinued their title claim to Lake Cowal, leaving Williams' group as the sole native title claimant to the Lake Cowal area.
"They couldn't prove their connection to the land, so they just
took the money and ran," explained Williams when asked about why "the Wiradjuri People" discontinued their land claim.
"They claim to
be Wiradjuri elders, but they signed a consent to destroy Aboriginal
objects. How could they do that? They are really just sellouts who have
signed away our ancient cultural heritage."
Under duress, the Mooka and Kalara United Families group will
present an anthropological report in March and make a case for their
Native Title claim. The Federal court will give further directions on Title Claim case in May.
If successful, there is still a worry that the traditional owners will
be unable to stop Barrick's mine on their land, which was once used for
ceremonies and is known as the "Sacred Heartland of the Wiradjuri Nation."
According to Australia's Native Title Act, when conflicts arise
over land use, traditional owners have no right to a veto, they can
only negotiate on how to say yes.
If the traditional owners
refuse to say yes, the matter goes to arbitration and the government
can override it in "the national interest." It is no wonder that the
Native Title Act has been condemned by the United Nations multiple times as a bad and racist law.
Even given these difficult circumstances, the group remains
hopeful. "We have to fight for every inch that we get; we've been in
the court for 10 years and are very pleased with the result of this
court case," Williams admitted of the Mooka/Kalara group's long
struggle to save the Lake Cowal area. "But we will fight to the bitter
end to protect and preserve our ancient cultural heritage."