PhD /Wafi-Golpu

The work presented here is part of my PhD (2016-21) at Murdoch University PhD that focused on the Wafi Communities near the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. The research builds on previous work along the Watut River Valley, and elsewhere – see about for more details.

The participant action research (PAR) based thesis applies a critical lens to community outcomes and extractive relationships, documenting a range of outcomes, injustices and practices that challenged the narrative of mining for development and prompted a re-conceptualisation of extractive industry relations and practices that could improve mining outcomes within a more ethical, pluralistic approach.

The research is presented in five articles and an exegesis. In reverse publishing order they are:

  • Understanding why impact assessment fails; a case study of theory and practice from Wafi-Golpu, Papua New Guinea (March 2021) open access
  • Unseen Existences: Stories of life from Venemebeli (September 2020) open access
  • Mining in Papua New Guinea: A complex story of trends, impacts and governance (June, 2020)
  • Human flourishing and extractive-led development; “The mine will give me whatever I like” (April, 2019)
  • Extractive Dispossession: “I am not happy our land will go, we will have no better life” (June, 2019)

The thesis, From hedonistic extraction to human flourishing: Applying disruptive and participatory concepts for a pluralist mining ethic (March, 2021) can be found at the Murdoch Repository (careful is 15mb)

Articles abstracts and links are are presented below along with summarised and Tok Pisin translations.


Presentation

SDG Conference Bergen February 2021

Parallel session 4: Indigenous Peoples’ Capacity to Act for Sustainability

Session Abstract: The well-being of indigenous people depends on healthy ecosystems and resilience to climate-related extremes and other shocks and disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous peoples are doubly affected in the sense that factors such as poverty, literacy capacity, access to health care, and gender inequality affects their capacity to act adequately for sustainability. The focus on sustained economic growth in the face of the pandemic lock-down also renews conflicts between development projects and indigenous communities.  The need for a continued focus on indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights, as well as their capacity to take political action and participate in knowledge production, including adequate access to knowledge and education, is thus more important than ever. A central goal for the session is to discuss how the SDGs can be reformulated to address these issues.

Conference Extraction: Tracing the Veins

From the 29th June – 10th July Massey University Political Ecology Research Centre and Wageningen University hosted the online conference “Extraction: Tracing the Veins”. The conference featured more than 80 presentations from around the world spanning extractive policy, indigenous knowledge extraction, resistances to extraction, artistic responses to extraction, data extraction and more. 

My presentation, cryptically entitled, Asymmetric realities: Can PAR assist mining-affected communities? can be watched through the conference website or below, with abstract and transcript and slides.


Journal articles

Understanding why impact assessment fails; a case study of theory and practice from Wafi-Golpu, Papua New Guinea

Authors: Charles Roche, Martin Brueckner, Eugene John, Nawasio Walim, Howard Sindana, the Venembeli Community

Abstract: From an instrumental or management perspective, impact assessment (IA) is a process of identifying impacts, finding solutions and achieving project approval. A recipient community, however, has a completely different perspective. For them the IA is about living with impacts, individually and collectively, perhaps over generations, and contested processes of self-determination, consultation and exclusion. IA practitioners live in a third space, usually bound to the proponent but also aware of responsibilities to communities and eco-systems. Seeking to better understand how IA is practiced and experienced, we explore the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine, located in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. Determinably focused on local effects we situate the proposed mine within the context of the national mining experience and discuss how IA practices see local and/or Indigenous communities. We find that the Wafi-Golpu IA is blind to local ways of being and seeing the world, with an opaque and arbitrary assessment that reflects its technical and Western basis and bias. We finish with observations about the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine and IA that is relevant to the approval process, as well as making a decolonial, Southern contribution to IA theory and practice, extractive industry regulation and mining-affected communities elsewhere.

Available open access/free from the journal website


Unseen existences_ Stories of life from Venembeli, Papua New Guinea

Authors: Charles Roche, Rochelle Spencer, Eugene John, Nawasio Walim, Howard Sindana, the Venembeli Community

Abstract: This article presents stories of life from Venembeli, a remote village in the hinterlands of Papua New Guinea. Caught up in a contentious mining development, villagers both long for and fear the development promised by global capitalism. But with a forty year development history, the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine has become the only lens through which the present or future is imagined and understood. We contend that this cultural hegemony has twisted the way stakeholders understand the mine’s outcomes and impacts. Mindful of the power of language and dominant cultures, we adopt a refined version of the Melanesian tok stori methodology to capture stories that, together with illustrations and our own observations, make visible and amplify the stories from Venembeli. The stories illustrate a different reality to those presented in the usual western, technical and reductive impact assessments; offering insights into a complex human story that requires contemplation and empathy if the communities are to be valued, heard and respected. The outcome of telling these stories is uncertain, but this emancipatory participatory action research will help readers and stakeholders to better understand the com- munity, and to prioritise their human flourishing to ensure positive, rather than negative mining legacies.

Available open access/free from the journal website


Mining in Papua New Guinea: A complex story of trends, impacts and governance

Authors: Gavin M.Mudd, Charles Roche, Stephen A.Northey, Simon M.Jowitt, Gama Gamato

Abstract: The gap between the rhetoric and reality of extractive-led development (ELD) looms large over the dominant but flawed discourse of mining for development. Seeking to better understand outcomes from ELD we apply a human flourishing perspective, exploring yet-to-be-experienced impacts in a potentially inflammatory political process. This action research is designed to assist communities respond to the proposed, but yet to be approved Wafi- Golpu project in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. The research exchange documents with a clear voice community concerns about: a lack of information; anxiety about intentional and immanent impacts; fundamentally different conceptualisations of what human flourishing is; a lack of development, services and facilities; unrealistic expectations; and, most powerfully, an undermining of individual and collective agency. We find that despite forty years of waiting for mining, the consent process to date is unjust, flawed and inadequate, de-legitimising any future claims to informed consent. While the immediate practical, on-ground outcomes of this action-research for the communities has been positive, longer-term outcomes are yet to be determined. The concept of human flourishing offers a useful and insightful perspective that can inform communities, governments, proponents and researchers alike about the potential impacts of ELD on human well-being.

Available from the journal or your University library – or you can contact the author directly.


Human flourishing and extractive-led development; “The mine will give me whatever I like”

Authors: Charles Roche, Nawasio Walim, Howard Sindana, Wafi and Watut Communities

Abstract: The gap between the rhetoric and reality of extractive-led development (ELD) looms large over the dominant but flawed discourse of mining for development. Seeking to better understand outcomes from ELD we apply a human flourishing perspective, exploring yet-to-be-experienced impacts in a potentially inflammatory political process. This action research is designed to assist communities respond to the proposed, but yet to be approved Wafi- Golpu project in the Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea. The research exchange documents with a clear voice community concerns about: a lack of information; anxiety about intentional and immanent impacts; fundamentally different conceptualisations of what human flourishing is; a lack of development, services and facilities; unrealistic expectations; and, most powerfully, an undermining of individual and collective agency. We find that despite forty years of waiting for mining, the consent process to date is unjust, flawed and inadequate, de-legitimising any future claims to informed consent. While the immediate practical, on-ground outcomes of this action-research for the communities has been positive, longer-term outcomes are yet to be determined. The concept of human flourishing offers a useful and insightful perspective that can inform communities, governments, proponents and researchers alike about the potential impacts of ELD on human well-being.

Available from the journal or your University library – or you can contact the author directly.


Extractive Dispossession: “I am not happy our land will go, we will have no better life”

Authors: Charles Roche, Howard Sindana, Nawasio Walim, Wafi and Watut Communities

Abstract: Inspired by questions from local communities about the potential impacts of large-scale extractive activities, we used others’ experience to identify and illustrate intentional and immanent impacts from extractive led development (ELD). Recognising the capitalist driver of global extraction and needing to capture the harsh, but often obscured reality of local experience, we turned to theories, applications and experience of dispossession. Based on Holden, Nadeau and Jacobson’s (2011) application of Harvey’s (2003) theory of accumulation by dis- possession (AbD) in the Philippines, we identified eleven separate but interrelated and overlapping factors of extractive dispossession which provide the specific detail required to identify and understand extractive impacts. These were then discussed and tested with communities potentially impacted by the proposed Wafi-Golpu mine in the Morobe province of Papua New Guinea. Participant responses indicated the value and utility of this recipient-view perspective of extractive impact in an interactive and iterative approach that informed com- munities about potential impacts and documented their concerns with process and outcome at Wafi-Golpu – which is already a site of multiple dispossessions. The research outcome is a practical heuristic with specific factors that enhances our understanding of potential impacts from ELD and can assist in applying concepts of dispossession and accumulation to development impacts.

Available from the journal or your University library – or you can contact the author directly.


Hosting and Support

The research, which involved multiple trips to PNG and a PNG research team has only been possible through the support of three institutions. Murdoch University through the Centre for Responsible Citizenship and Sustainability, The Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Planning and Environmental Decision Making: The Role of Community-Based Impact Assessments (IndKnow), under the auspices of the UIT The Arctic University of Norway and funded by the Norwegian Resource Council, and the Mineral Policy Institute.

The IndKnow project seeks to address the gap between the lack of Indigenous peoples knowledge (IK) in planning, land-use and environmental decision-making and new ways of integrating IK by asking: by what means and methods can IK and rights be secured in marine and land-use planning decisions. The project endeavours to advance methodologies that can bridge this gap and develop best practice for the integration of IK through participatory GIS mapping technologies and community-based impact assessments (CBIA). We draw upon examples of best practice in CBIA and will combine IK systems with western scientific research methods from the natural and social sciences.

The Mineral Policy Institute [MPI] is an international civil society organisation with a volunteer board representing members from across the world. Operating from Australia we focus on assisting communities affected by specific mining projects and on achieving industry reform through improvements to policy, law and practice. With a strong emphasis on free prior and informed consent, MPI undertakes a supportive and background role to assist mining-affected communities. Our aim, and our role is to support communities to more effectively protect their rights and respond to mining issues that impact on them.

The Centre for Responsible Citizenship and Sustainability provides a platform for collaborative, inter-disciplinary work across the School of Business and Governance, all schools within Murdoch University and outside institutions. The Centre seeks to advance teaching and research in areas that are at the heart of key global challenges and relevant to future university graduates and society at large.