By Ian Stewart

I attended the annual conference of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) which was held in Brisbane last week. One of the cornerstones of Paladin’s approach to managing projects is our community engagement model. This is why I made it a point of attending a session on working with communities to listen to some of the latest ideas in the Australian resources sector, see what lessons can be applied to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and share some of our own methods with participants.

Ian Stewart, Director of the Paladin Group, at last week’s APPEA Conference

Some of the key takeouts from the session were:

  • The growing acceptance that companies require a social license to operate. Dr Lyndon Llewellyn, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, presented on how a Social License to Operate (SLO) was built into the Gladstone Harbour project. A key tool used was a scorecard system for reporting with metrics for community engagement built in. I had a good conversation with Dr Llewellyn about how Paladin could incorporate this into our own reporting. A subsequent presentation talked about the importance of rigorous monitoring of commitments made, as a failure to deliver on them would have an immediate negative impact on a company’s social license to operate.
  • Embedding proactive ways of engaging stakeholders into projects. Warwick Squire, from the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, talked about the increased use of stakeholder-user panels as part of resources projects in the state. These panels cover participants such as landholders, native title participants, local organisations and various peak bodies. While institutionalised mechanisms for regular dialogue with stakeholders is commonplace nowadays, they should be applied more widely in PNG. Indeed, there were many lessons to be learnt in the structures used by the Queensland state government that were presented.
  • The relative influence of landholders in PNG compared to Australia due to a formal role granted to them through legislation. One of the presentations mapped out stakeholders into the following categories:
    • Influential (powerful and urgent)
    • Dependent (legitimate and urgent)
    • Dominant (legitimate and powerful)
    • Definitive (powerful, urgent and legitimate)

Local laws in PNG give landholders rights that put them on a level footing with ‘dominant’ extractors. Conversely, laws in Australia often leave communities in a ‘dependent’ position. Through its interventions, the PNG government is able to play a ‘definitive’ role and, in my opinion, can continue to do so through its leadership.

  • The evolving nature of who is a ‘trusted’ voice and how this varies according to cultural contexts. In Australia, captains of industry once enjoyed a huge degree of trust, but they have now been replaced by technical experts who have greater credibility with the public. In PNG, community leaders hold the highest degree of trust, which is why it is critical to engage them as often as we do.

Ian Stewart, Director of the Paladin Group, in conversation with Dr Lyndon Llewellyn of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences who presented during the APPEA Conference

The key point for me though was that communities want a local voice in major projects that impact their locality. They are not impressed by organisations that just blow in and out of an area. Project teams should be strongly embedded and committed to their community. The strength of our relationships in PNG stems from the fact that we have been operating in communities where our projects are based since 2013, and we retain the same level of engagement to this day.

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