Bougainville Copper

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Bougainville Copper Limited is an Australian copper, gold, and silver mining company that operated the Panguna open cut mine on the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) from 1971 to 1989. Mining operations were officially halted on 15 May 1989, when employees were attacked during an uprising and the power source was cut.[1]

Until then, it operated as one of the world's largest open-pit mines. The Panguna mine dominated the economy of the island during the 1970s and 1980s. It also was highly significant to the overall PNG economy: In the 1970s and the 1980s the company's tax and dividend payments added up to approximately 44% of PNG's national budget.


The mine at Panguna was opened in 1972 and majority-owned by Rio Tinto.[2]

The mine was vitally important to the economy of Papua New Guinea, but the people of Bougainville were seeing little benefit from it. The PNG national government received a 20% share of profit from the mine, of which the Bougainvilleans received 0.5% - 1.25% share of the total profit.[3] The mining company hired thousands of workers from PNG outside the highlands, and deposited tons of toxic waste in the island's rivers, damaging the environment.

The first Bougainville independence movement began to arise in the late 1960s, as people began to air their grievances against the Australian colonial government over the handling of the Panguna mine. Australian External Territories Minister Charles Barnes was accused of telling the Bougainvillean people they would "get nothing". The issue of compensation went to the High Court of Australia, where it was found that the compensation was inadequate under ordinary federal Australian law, but that as an External Territory, Papua New Guinea was not guaranteed the same standards that applied to mainland Australia.[4]

In 2010, using interviews with BCL executives and internal company documents, Dr Kristian Lasslet of the University of Ulster published findings linking the company to war crimes during the period of civil war.[5] This research suggests that BCL placed significant pressure on the PNG government to assert its authority on Bougainville, following acts of industrial sabotage. The company aided the security forces by providing them with trucks, fuel, accommodation, communications equipment, storage space, messing facilities and office resources, even after their human rights abuses became apparent. Although these allegations have been denied by BCL's current Chairman, Dr Lasslett insists on their veracity, citing numerous recorded interviews with company executives and a large cache of BCL records, all of which evidence his findings.[6]

In his first statement on Radio Australia Pacific Beat on 8 June 2010, the newly elected President of Bougainville, John Momis, declared that the Panguna mine has to be reopened to assure economic growth of Bougainville in the future.[7]

As a result of substantial lobbying by MGU, the ABG stripped BCL of its mining rights in 2014.[8]


  1. ^ "About the Company". Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "Bougainville Copper Limited". Rio Tinto. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Ewins, Rory,"The Bougainville Conflict" accessed 24 June 2009
  4. ^ [1] (Benggong v Bougainville Copper Pty Ltd [1971] HCA 31; (1971) 124 CLR 47)
  5. ^ [2] [3] Lasslett, K (2010) 'Saving Hearts and Mines'
  6. ^ [4] Regan, A. & Lasslett, K. (2013)'"Not Credible" - Ausaid mining adviser defends Rio Tinto against war crime allegations'
  7. ^ [5], Radio Australia
  8. ^ [6], ABC Net (Australia)

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Coordinates: 6°18′55″S 155°29′47″E / 6.31528°S 155.49639°E / -6.31528; 155.49639