Formulating Basic Policy for Community Relations Programmes

Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 6
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1997
The purpose of this paper is to outline the basic policy problems for good community relations programmes in the resource extraction industries of Papua New Guinea. The main focus of the paper will be on defining and analysing those problems which lie on the landowner side and which are still not widely understood within the resource extraction industries despite several decades of turbulent experience. Many of the companies operating in the resource extraction industries of mining and petroleum and gas have in recent decades adopted, by choice or necessity, 'good corporate citizen' policies. Some of these companies now pursue ethical business, environmental and community relations policies. Some have adequately funded and well-trained staff in their community relations departments. Although different industry sites scattered over Papua New Guinea show significant differences in their experience of social conflict, I argue here that a good deal of this variation has less to do with the differences between the companies' public relations policies and their effectiveness and more to do with the conflict causing features of indigenous society. Experience suggests that even a company well-equipped with good intentions, good policies and good staff may experience serious difficulties in maintaining good community relations in Papua New Guinea. Many of these difficulties, I argue, can be traced to causes that lie, essentially, within the structure of Papua New Guinean communities and in the customs and social relations of Papua New Guinean peoples. Accordingly the attention of this paper is focussed on the conflict causing aspects of Papua New Guinean society. It is true, to the point of being a cliche, that Papua New Guinean societies are oriented very strongly towards achieving consensus and social harmony. In this regard Papua New Guinean communities differ significantly from, say, Australian communities. My purpose here is not to denigrate this aspect of Papua New Guinean societies but, rather, to point out that the drive for consensus is driven by the desire to avoid its opposite, dissensus. This paper sets out to define the dissensual aspects of Papua New Guinean societies and my special interest is in those conflict producing aspects of Papua New Guinean societies that are most resistant to the mechanisms that are designed to create social harmony. A survey of the recent history of industry and community relations in Papua New Guinea indicates that there are three main factors present on the landowner side which are liable, separately or through their interaction, to cause difficulties. These factors are respectively generational challenge, social boundaries and custom variability and I shall discuss each of these in turn.
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