About

Hi, welcome. This site contains a collection of research, publications and reflections that were previously unavailable or were spread over a number of disconnected sites.

I’ve been working with Indigenous and remote/regional communities impacted by development for twenty-five years, mostly on land use issues – often relating to extraction.  After an upbringing on the farm in the midwest of Western Australia’s (WA) wheatbelt, I moved to Busselton where the prevailing wisdom was to mine under some of the world’s last remaining tuart forests. From there I worked on rural and farm conservation issues, then on the eastern end of Gondwana Link, both in WA. A few years in NT was educational, with the clash between communities and global extraction raising a new set of development justice issues. From there I worked on Australian and international mining issues, sometimes at a site specific scale, other times more industry focused. My experience in Papua New Guinea was formative as I witnessed the colonial and hyper-capitalist paradigms that sheltered extractive companies from genuine scrutiny, responsibility and accountability (with clear reflections in Australia). This inspired a participatory action research PhD (2021) into the potential impacts from extractive-led development at the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. In May 2022, I joined the Yamatji Southern Regional Corporation, the Indigenous body established to implement the Yamatji side of the historic agreement with the state of Western Australia.

A brief history and affiliations, I have been the Executive Director of the Mineral Policy Institute (MPI) since late 2008 until the present. Much of the early work presented here was done with, for or under an MPI banner. Then starting in 2014 my other affiliations are with Murdoch University and the Centre for Responsible Citizenship and Sustainability and starting 2019 the IndKnow Project with UIT – The Arctic University of Norway and funded by the Norwegian Resource Council. During that time I have also worked with GRIDArendal and the UNEP while under an MPI and Murdoch University banner. All of this work is presented here. Research is presented on issue-titled pages in the menu bar. Start there.

If you want to know what drives me and about the why, how and what the PhD is all about then start with the Murdoch University member profile (below). I can be contacted on charles.roche(a)murdoch.edu.au


CRCS Member Profile: Charles Roche

What is the focus of your PhD and what has been your motivation for doing it?

The story behind Charles’ PhD is a long one. He was inspired, but some may say driven, to learn new ways of knowing about, and responding to, the impacts of the extractive industries on local peoples. His motivation grew from over fifteen years of engagement in mining development issues, which included the Tuart Forest at Busselton in the 1990s and the McArthur River mine in the Northern Territory. Both of these engagements were through  and with local environment groups, but they also included an awareness of the social justice  issues relating to industrial mining and the challenges facing Indigenous people. These experiences and lessons lead Charles to join the Mineral Policy Institute in 2009, a civil society organisation that works on mineral justice issues around the world but has a long and ongoing focus on mining in Papua New Guinea (PNG). During this time, Charles became frustrated as he witnessed, heard and read about repeated injustices and the terrible multi-generational impacts of industrial mining. At the same time, he also knew that traditional approaches to overcoming development injustices rarely delivered the magnitude of change required and that the same drivers of the same injustices kept repeating, with little regard for those impacted.

So, Charles decided to come to Murdoch University to learn more about industrial mining and extractive industries, with a special focus on communities that live nearby or downstream from mining projects. Charles attempted to set aside what he thought he knew and start from the beginning by reading a range of perspectives including: the commons; development; corporate social responsibility; ethics and de/colonisation just to name a few. Charles was thankful to have very understanding supervisors who encouraged this wide-ranging exploration. PNG was also very interesting to Charles as it is the site of many mining operations and anthropological studies making it a hotspot for learning about the globalised extractive industry. Rather than having a particular question or focus, Charles’ PhD follows a participant action-research (PAR) methodology, with a focus on what is and might happen, rather than a study of past events. The lenses that are being applied might be useful to the Wafi and Watut communities who stand to be impacted by the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine. Above all, Charles knew that the research needed to be useful; informing, and be able to give a voice to, affected communities.

As the end of his PhD is in sight, Charles has become more confident in saying what his PhD is all about. To date, Charles has published two papers in the Journal of Extractive Industries and Society. The first, Human flourishing and extractive-led development; “The mine will give me whatever I like” uses a non-western infused application of eudaimonia, translated as human flourishing (gutpla sindaun in PNG) which questions whether industrial mining adds or diminishes local well-being. The second, Extractive Dispossession; “I am not happy our land will go, we will have no better life” describes eleven factors of Extractive Dispossession that impact local peoples, it too is based on international examples and community contributions. The third and fourth articles are in preparation, one focusing on the superficiality of project impact assessment, the other is a statement of values about local life, connected by a river that embraces and defines the village of Venembeli; both use art drawn onsite and by community co-researchers.

Charles wanted to acknowledge his team and say that while a PhD is primarily the work of one, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Howard Sindana and Nawasio Walim have been his long-time (prior to his PhD) PNG co-conspirators, field researchers, friends and co-authors. More recently they were joined by Eugene John, an artist and teacher who has helped broaden their engagement and use art as a medium for engagement and research. In Perth, Charles’ supervisors and co-authors are Martin Brueckner and Rochelle Spencer, who together provide a beautiful mix of skills and provide insights and guidance.

What have you been doing outside your PhD over the last 18 months?

For Charles, there have been a few distractions to his research, with the most significant being his life and family which has caused a few delays. However, his first major research distraction was a report on mining legacies in Australia for the Mineral Policy Institute, titled Ground Truths; Taking responsibility for Australia’s mining legacies (2016), which built upon previous published work. The second distraction or better labelled, opportunity saw Charles become the lead author for a UNEP rapid assessment report entitled Mine Tailings Storage: Safety is no accident (2017). This also prompted related presentations at; the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (2017) in Geneva, Switzerland; and as session chair for the Taking Action to Reduce Pollution in the Extractive Sector at the UN Environment Assembly (2017) in Nairobi, Kenya; and the UNEP Mine Waste Initiative (2018), Vancouver, Canada. Most recently, Charles was invited to Korea to present at the Mine Tailings Symposium (2019), which allowed him to draw upon parts of both publications as well as using the ideas on mining and society that he had developed during his PhD candidature.

What impact do you think you are having?

Charles found this question particularly hard to answer in a few words and may have even inspired a potential fifth paper that reflexively examines the outcomes and methodology of his research. However, he did try and attempt to answer it. Firstly, he suggested that his distractions have been valuable as they have exposed him to, and highlighted Murdoch University in, an international forum. Along the way, Charles’ writing and collaboration skills have improved which have aided the development and publication of journal articles.

The main focus for Charles has been PNG. On a positive note, the PAR approach has enabled his team to share information with communities as they learnt from them. Charles has heard individual stories where his team’s research has changed the way people see mining, with more people willing to challenge the omnipresent monolith that dominates current and future life. The team has also grown through interactions with PNG members, who Charles suggested will be a positive force for change for years to come. Charles has invited the company to participate in the research and hopes that positive opportunities can be developed for how mining-related problems can been seen and solved.

On a less positive note, with 40 years spent waiting for mining development in PNG, multiple generations are unable to comprehend a future that does not revolve around industrial mining. This means they often do not see the valuable components of life that contribute to their individually defined human flourishing, nor does the mining company see them as the focus on what is important to them. At the same time, the processes of assessment and approval practically exclude the community, especially women, from access to information and a role in decision-making that will affect individual and community well-being for generations to come. As Charles wrote from Venembeli (PNG) during a rainy wet and quiet research day, he is saddened about the inability of the extractive industry to learn from each other or from published research. For it is this inability to learn or improve that is at the heart of the poor outcomes we witness elsewhere and are already preceding the development of the Wafi- Golpu mine.

To conclude, Charles said that he was able to reflect using these questions and found them useful for collecting his thoughts about his own research. As Charles wrote, Mi lookim yu sumpla taim (I’ll see you later).