NRL legend Darren Lockyer caught up in land war over coal
Rugby league legend Darren Lockyer has been caught up in a bitter dispute over plans by an Australian company to develop Papua New Guinea's first coal mine and coal-powered power plant.
Lockyer is the frontman and head of business affairs of mining company Mayur Resources which is trying to develop a number of mines in PNG, along with a coal-fired power station.
The PNG Government says Mayur is bringing jobs, revenue and prosperity to the country.
In a statement to the ASX by Mayur, PNG Mining Minister Johnson Tuke said a 20-year deal for Mayur to mine limestone north of the capital Port Moresby would "bring an additional source of mining/manufacturing export revenue will be most welcome by the PNG government."
But PNG community leaders are furious, claiming the company is trying to "brainwash'' the community into supporting the project by sending Lockyer to lobby for support in the league-obsessed nation to Australia's north.
It's a claim the former Bronco rejects, telling News Corp: "Many of the locals that receive me do it with open arms, as Mayur and I genuinely are there to create better lives for the people in PNG and bring our first world development standards with us in doing this."
Central Province Governor Robert Agarobe was also quoted as saying the project would provide a better quality of life for his province.
"We have worked closely with Mayur over a long time to ensure the project creates new jobs, spin-off businesses for local landowners, and new regional facilities such as new gardens, power and water.''
A separate mineral sands development, proposed by Mayur, at Orokolo Bay has also raised further concerns about the increasing influence of Chinese money in PNG.
Mayur Resources has entered the joint venture with the Hong Kong-registered China Titanium Resources Holdings for the $850 million proposal.
Northern Governor and environmentalist Gary Juffa said the move by Mayur to parachute Lockyer into the region was a grave insult to the people of PNG.
"We have become so brainwashed that we will be convinced of anything if they simply put an Aussie league player in front of it to sell," Mr Juffa said.
Governor Juffa questioned whether Lockyer would have paid PNG any heed "if he wasn't lobbying for his company to be given all green lights for coal".
The Brisbane-based Mayur, which is listed on the ASX, has had 20 exploration licences granted by PNG, including for copper, gold, limestone, mineral sands and coal.
But it is their proposed productions plans - a cement production facility close to the capital of Port Moresby, and a coal mine and an associated coal-fired power plant, to be based in the coastal city of Lae - which have caused most alarm.
Lockyer said he had been involved with Mayur since 2013, and he had been drawn to their vision of PNG developing its own energy assets.
He rejected claims that community members had not been consulted about a coal mine power plant 500 metres from their village.
"I was personally there at the UNITECH campus where some 3000 people attended my speech and overview of what we are doing for the people of Lae," he said.
He also defended the project's environmental assessment procedures.
"This project already has all of its environmental approvals and detailed supporting environmental management plans that are actually better than the environmental limits Australia has set for their power plants next to adjacent communities," Lockyer said.
The league legend described suggestions that Mayur was taking advantage of an underdeveloped country and its people as "offensive".
"The amount of money, effort and time we have put in to set the foundation for the people of PNG to be able to live better lives with their own energy and building materials is huge," he said.
"We have not taken one dollar out of the country and only invested into PNG."
A News Corp Australia special investigation can reveal:
• Mayur's managing director Paul Mulder is the former top lieutenant of Australia's richest woman Gina Rinehart.
• Other Mayur proposals include a copper and gold mine in the Milne Bay province - an area tentatively listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
• Mayur is headquartered in Brisbane but registered in Singapore.
• Mayur was this month granted a 20-year-mining lease for its Central Cement and Lime project, 25km north of Port Moresby, in what Mr Mulder described as a project critical to PNG's nation-building agenda.
• Nine of its exploratory licences have been granted for industrial sands proposals tied up with China Titanium.
• Its proposed 52 megawatt "enviro energy park'' in Lae would use solar, biomass woodchip and coal (80 per cent coal-fired), with the coal to come from a proposed mine at Depot Creek.
The ripple effect of PNG's apparent support of coal as an energy source is being felt across the Pacific, given the Pacific Islands Forum, of which PNG is a member, agreed last year to make addressing climate change a "cornerstone priority''.
Four years ago, Papua New Guinea was the first country to finalise its national climate plan under the Paris Agreement, committing to transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
Kipu Anonga, the local ward councillor for Labu Butu Village, said the power plant was planned for a site just 500m away from the village, where 3000 people live.
Mr Anonga said Mayur had not consulted the community about the plant or the potential impacts.
He said it is the locals, what he calls "the little people," who are being steamrolled.
" … at this point in time, with the political heads and the superpowers going ahead to push and make this progress eventuate … and disregarding the cry of the little people, it's going against the little people at the village," he said.
"We have done a tribe-wide awareness with regard to that particular (Mayur) project, which has questioned the source of benefit.
"There are other developments, other projects that we have established … but the benefits from those developments hasn't trickled down to the little people."
Christian Lohberger of Civil Organisation Nogat Coal PNG, which opposes Mayur's plans, said recently in local PNG media that he questioned whether it was ethical for a company to use rugby league stars to promote such projects.
"Even though they're just footballers, when they talk and say stuff, people listen," he said.
" … I don't know if it's really ethical that they should be using Papua New Guineans' love of rugby league to promote something that's not really connected."
Luke Fletcher, Executive Director from research and advocacy organisation Jubilee Australia Research Centre, also questioned the environmental and economic impact of the mine and power plant.
Dr Fletcher said the group, in partnership with the PNG-based Centre for Environmental And Community Rights (CELCOR), would release a report next month flagging:
• Lack of consultation with the local community;
• Environmental review process did not follow proper procedures;
• Lack of research on the health impact.
"Our primary concern is that people know and understand what is being proposed. If a company is using celebrities to push an agenda that has not had proper consultation, well that's concerning," Dr Fletcher said.
"But a major concern for us is we haven't seen anything from Mayur in regards to air quality for the proposed power plant.
"The lack of a proper air quality assessment raises serious doubts as to the ability for Mayur to manage the serious health impacts of having a coal-fired power station so near to a major population centre.
"About 100,000 people live within a few kilometres of the proposed site - and if we haven't seen an assessment, the people of Lae haven't.
"That approval has been given without this assessment is scandalous."
Originally published as NRL legend Darren Lockyer caught up in tribal land war