Michael Pascoe writes:

Mention Rio Tinto’s ability to fly under
radar on its significant West Papuan interests in Crikey one day, The SMH gives
a perfect example of it the next. Today’s second SMH editorial
goes where the Australian Government isn’t game to tread – the international
scandal of Indonesia’s West Papuan colony in general and the massive Grasberg mine in
particular:

The giant Freeport gold and copper mine is carving a scar so
vast and deep into the remote forests of Papua that it will soon be visible
from space. Downstream, a swelling bruise of a billion tonnes of mine waste has
rendered wetlands inhospitable for aquatic life. The stupendous profits
generated by the world’s largest copper and gold mine largely pass the
indigenous Papuans by. That the mine has become the violent flashpoint in their
dogged campaign for independence is unsurprising. Democracy in Indonesia has, rightly, raised expectations for
accountability. The reckless polluters of Freeport, the abusive military units stationed in Papua
and the civilian government in Jakarta are on notice: the bad old days of
impunity are over.

I don’t know about the SMH leader
writer’s conclusion there and the damning of Freeport might be a little strong, but you catch the drift.
What’s surprising though is that such a prominent mention of Grasberg should
omit the key role played by Rio Tinto – the London headquartered but still heavily Australian influenced
resources giant.

Rio is the marriage of Britain’s RTZ and Australia’s CRA. The CEO is an Australian, as are two of the
non-executive directors. And Rio is Freeport’s joint venture partner in the Grasberg mine.

Rio soldits considerable
holding in Freeport two years ago, but it’s certainly holding on to its rich Grasberg stake.

Its performance there contrasts very
sharply with BHP’s dealing with Ok Tedi over the boarder in Papua New
Guinea. Rio generally tries to flick all responsibility for
what’s going on in West Papua to Freeport – something made a little
easier by
no longer being a major shareholder in Freeport, but still impossible
given the
realities of its investment.

If Rio wants to live up to the
sustainability rhetoric it likes to spout, it has some hard decisions and much
harder work to do in West Papua instead of happily hiding behind Freeport and
avoiding the editorial writers’ occasional arrows.

Peter Fray

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