KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 1 / JanuaryFebruaryMarch 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Mining Welfare from Cradle to Grave
Thanks to AusAID some of the worlds richest companies received maps and reports detailing potential oil fields in the Philippines for nothing more than the cost of copying.
Mining companies in Australia for decades have had their operations supported by the federal and state governments through research grants, tax breaks and assistance in opening up export markets. Australia's overseas aid program is part of this corporate welfare that is effectively providing the mining industry with cradle to grave assistance.
AusAID provides millions of dollars for projects to assist the expansion of the mining industry in low income countries. Geophysical surveys, mineral and petroleum exploration, training programs, waste management and institutional strengthening are some of the services mining companies can now access courtesy of the Australian aid dollar.
Numerous Australian companies are operating in countries that have limited ability to scrutinise contracts, control investments and monitor the environmental and social impacts of mining projects. Rather than provide what amounts to handouts to companies that make millions of dollars in annual profits, Australian aid should be providing governments and communities in low income countries with the capacity to vigorously scrutinise all aspects of mining operations.
In the past five years mining exploration and operations have increased ten fold. The result too often is degraded environments with communities receiving few benefits as they see the social fabric of their lives ripped apart. Overseas development programs could play a major role in helping to reverse this trend.
In the Philippines, businesses with major oil interests have done very well out of the $A5 million Marine Seismic Survey project funded by AusAID. Thirty-four Australian and Philippine oil companies formed the consultative group for this project, undertaken ostensibly for the Philippine Department of Energy. The survey, including analysis of the geophysical data collected, was made available to companies for nothing more than the cost of copying. Seventy-nine companies purchased full sets of reports and maps and in no time three of the four survey areas were selected for more detailed seismic surveys. Drilling commenced soon after.
This rush of interest from overseas businesses suggests that they were pleased with what AusAID was providing them. Some of the world's richest companies received maps, montages and reports detailing the seismic, geochemistry, magnetic, gravity and navigational details of potential oil fields in the Philippines.
In Vanuatu, Australian tax payers paid half a million dollars to inform the world's mining companies that surveys had found copper, chrome-platinoids, nickel and possibly gold. AusAID boasted that not long after the surveys were completed and colour glossy brochures promoting the finds were circulated, several major companies commenced work and they expected "increasing interest from other companies". To speed things along the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, the body that carried out the aid funded survey, employed a geoscientist to work out of Vanuatu advising companies on how to gain prospecting licences.
From the inception of these projects local people's needs and concerns are rarely considered. Local communities in Vanuatu complained about the activities of the people employed on this AusAID project, who without requesting permission or explaining what they were doing, came into their villages and communal lands to do their surveys and investigations.
Fiji has also been the recipient of this form of "aid". $1.2 million was allocated in 1996-7 for a geophysical air survey. Australian aid-funded mineral exploration is also being undertaken in Eritrea, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. $4.2 million has been spent on gold, lead and zinc exploration in Pakistan alone.
Although AusAID attempts to downgrade the level of their support by arguing that only 0.5% of the total aid budget goes on mining activities, the reality is that this money is saving companies millions of dollars. AusAID is using the goodwill that exists between many governments in the Asia-Pacific region to open up areas to companies that could find it difficult to penetrate without such support.
At this time of shrinking aid budgets, the Australian government should honour its commitment to poverty alleviation and stop providing handouts to mining companies.
Mr Trevor Kanaley, Director General, AusAID, GPO Box 887, Canberra 2601
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Reprinted from Aidwatch
Newsletter No. 14, March 1998.
For more information see the Aidwatch web site at www.peg.apc.org/~aidwatch