Australia to fund road clearing to Porgera mine after PNG landslide

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia said it would provide A$2 million ($1.33 million) to Papua New Guinea to restore road access to the Porgera gold mine, previously one of the world's largest, and other support for survivors after a deadly landslide in Enga province in May.

Seven Australian ministers and the country's police chief are in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to hold security and trade talks amid competition with China for policing ties in the Pacific Islands, and to underscore Australian humanitarian assistance after the disaster last month.

"It was moving to see so many people in such a dire situation," Australia's Minister for Pacific, Pat Conroy, said in an ABC Television interview, after visiting the site with PNG Defence Minister Billy Joseph and the delegation.

Australia will provide assistance for health clinics, and education packs for thousands of survivors who must move from villages where mountainsides collapsed.

PNG had requested A$2 million to "start the work to open up the national highway there to the Porgera gold mine, which is obviously an incredibly important source of jobs and revenue for the people of Enga province", Conroy said.

The Porgera mine, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the landslide, is an underground mine jointly run by Canada's Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) and China's Zijin Mining Group (601899.SS), with the Papua New Guinea government holding a 51% share.

The mine was re-started this year after being in dispute for four years as PNG sought to boost returns to tribal landowners, and had been expected to reach full production this year.

Barrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape said in April the reopened mine was expected to return to its status as one of the world's largest gold mines, becoming a significant contributor to the national treasury and generating income for Enga province. The mine employs about 2,000 local workers.

It remains unclear how many people died in the landslide on May 24, with the national government and a U.N. estimate putting the death toll at about 670.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, said in an ABC interview on Thursday that Australia was "in a permanent contest in the Pacific", referring to its rivalry with China for security ties, and wanted to ensure stability in PNG.

($1 = 1.4984 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney; additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne. Editing by Gerry Doyle)