Background and context
The Panguna copper and gold mine has played a central role in Bougainville’s recent economic and political history. During the course of its operation— from 1972 until 1989—the mine formed the foundation of an economic development model centred on largescale mining, providing a major revenue source for government, investors and other businesses linked to the mine’s operation. Subsequently, the eruption of intense social conflict over the mine’s operation played a central role in triggering the region’s decade long civil war. The mine now lies at the heart of debates over the region’s political and economic future, as discussion surrounding the mine’s proposed reopening gains momentum. These debates are closely intertwined with discussions over the island’s prospective independence from Papua New Guinea. As these debates unfold in tandem, the next 12 months will be a critical time for the people of Bougainville.
Official public discussion surrounding the mine’s future has often projected sentiments of both inevitability and united public purpose in support of the mine’s reopening. Yet despite optimistic declarations over the potential to overcome past conflict and achieve broadbased support amongst affected people for the mine’s reopening, there have been numerous warning signs that significant social tensions surrounding the mine persist.
Drawing on interviews with a range of everyday Bougainvilleans living in villages around the Panguna mine area, this report explores some of the ways in which complex legacies related to the conflict, and mining, are intersecting with equally complex debates over Bougainville’s economic and political future. The report endeavors to relay voices from mine-affected communities in Bougainville, voices that have been distant from recent public discussions surrounding the mine—raising some difficult and troubling questions about the mine’s past, and its soon to be determined future.
The interviews were carried out by two researchers in ten different sites in the Panguna region during November and December 2013. The researchers spoke to people from most of the key villages in or around the mine site, including a majority of the main villages located in the Special Mining Lease Area and in the Upper and Middle Tailings Areas. A snowball sampling method was used in order to identify participants, who were broadly divided across a range of ages and genders. In all, 65 individual interviews were carried out as well as one focus group discussion with 17 participants.