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Wednesday, 31 March 1999
Page: 4901

Dr THEOPHANOUS (5:49 PM) —by leave—As deputy chairman of the committee and of the delegation, I would like to applaud all the comments made by the honourable member for Fadden and also congratulate the members of the delegation for the work they did. I also want to emphasise the importance of the peace monitoring group which is, I think, quite unique in terms of peacekeeping groups around the world, and it is doing a tremendous job. I think it is true to say that the group, which is primarily Australian orientated in terms of participation, although there are people from Vanuatu, Fiji and New Zealand, is doing an excellent job on the ground. I believe, and I think most Bougainvilleans believe, that without that group on the ground doing that job we would not have proceeded as far as we have in terms of the peace in that situation.

The political discussions that we had both in Bougainville and in Port Moresby reinforced the view that, although significant differences exist about Bougainville's political future, people are determined to try to achieve and continue on the path of peace. One of the factors which is most important in relation to that path of peace is the forthcoming election, which is due to be held in mid-April. Whether it will be held in mid-April is not clear yet, but that election is of critical importance to the future of Bougainville.

Interestingly, most groups in Bougainville wish to participate in that electoral process, although there are some that are raising objections of a constitutional nature to it. It is very important that Australia encourage the election to proceed, and the report actually says that, notwithstanding the fact that there has not been total disarmament, we nevertheless support the idea of these elections proceeding so that an interim assembly and government can be formed for Bougainville whose major purpose will be to negotiate a political settlement with the government of Papua New Guinea in terms of outcomes.

This leads me to the other matter which I think is very important if there is going to be political agreement in both Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. That is, it is important for proposals to be put forward in relation to an autonomy package for the province—that is to say, proposals about the kind of constitution that will exist for the province and the kinds of powers which the regional Bougainvillean government is going to have vis-a-vis the central government.

Most of the people we spoke to, even those who were not supportive of this election—such as the opposition at the national level—agreed that it was very important to develop these proposals for an autonomy package. I think this is the factor which, after the elections in April, will determine whether or not the people of Bougainville can come together in a unified way and also whether a resolution can be made with the government of Papua New Guinea. Australia should do whatever it can to assist politically to ensure that this process is further developed. In fact, if there is anything Australia can do in providing expertise to assist this political process, we ought to do so.

The key players in the Bougainville crisis have all committed themselves, as the member for Fadden said, to a path of peace. They no longer want war. They want to redevelop Bougainville and they want to go forward to provide the basics of health, education, transport and many other ordinary things of life for their people. They have recognised that, notwithstanding their differences of a political and constitutional nature, they want to develop Bougainville and they do not want to return to the destructive path which existed before. The vast majority of people support the idea of some kind of election which will be fair and democratic. In this respect, I hope the elections will proceed in this way and achieve that aim.

One of the chiefs in Haku gave us a copy of his speech, and I think it is worth reading the closing part of it to sum up the aspirations of the people of Bougainville. He said:

We are asking all leaders not to play politics with our future. Peace is so close and yet so easily thrown away by a careless word. We ask for your support for the peace process as agreed so far. Please do not look for reasons why this process cannot work. Join hands with us to help it work, to make it work. Join hands with us to help the people of Bougainville and their families and their children to enjoy the peace that you happily can take for granted. Do not help those who would tear down what we have built so far. All we ask is that you give peace a chance.

I think that sums up the aspirations of the people of Bougainville. This is a very important report and I commend it to all members.

Mr JULL —I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks when the debate is resumed.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.