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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1470

Senator LOOSLEY (11.46 a.m.) —by leave—I table and present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Bougainville, entitled Bougainville: a Pacific solution. It is a report of the visit of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Bougainville from 18 to 22 April 1994. I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

The title of our report, as I have just mentioned, is Bougainville: a Pacific solution. It is the unanimous view of our delegation that the crisis on Bougainville which has existed for nearly six years is capable of a Pacific solution. It ought to be a Pacific solution which prevails, and the time for that solution to be achieved is now. It should be achieved principally by Papua New Guinea but in cooperation with its neighbours and friends, including Australia.

  The tragedy of Bougainville cannot be adequately described in words before the Senate this morning. This war has been very costly in lives; untold lives have been lost. It has been very costly in terms of the damage done to families on the island and on the neighbouring islands. It has been very damaging to communities in terms of the hardship and dislocation which have been inflicted by the conflict on ordinary people.

  The last six years have seen lost opportunities, primarily in education of young people. It has seen lost entitlements in health and services. It has seen lost aspirations in work, family life and community involvement. It is very encouraging therefore to see the process which seems to be unfolding at the moment in the discussions between the government of Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville secessionists.

  It is a privilege in every sense of the word for me to present this report to the Senate this morning. It represents unanimous views in terms of its findings, conclusions and recommendations. Our delegation represented all shades of opinion in the Australian parliament. At the outset I would like to acknowledge my fellow delegates—the deputy leader, Mr Sinclair; Senator Bourne from the Australian Democrats; Senator Calvert from the Liberal Party; and my friend and colleague Mr Knott from the ALP—all of whom contributed both in work done during the visit and in the preparation of this report and its supporting documentation.

  I would also like to acknowledge the contributions of the two prime ministers, Messrs Wingti and Keating, who were supportive from the time the idea was first raised. I offer a particular acknowledgment to the foreign ministers of Papua New Guinea and Australia, Sir Julius Chan and Senator Gareth Evans, who saw this idea through to fruition and reality. In terms of the manner in which our delegation was able to visit Bougainville and talk with people on the island and beyond, I make a special acknowledgment to Bill Farmer, our High Commissioner, and his staff in Port Moresby.

  The terms of reference were very clear: to look at circumstances on Bougainville, to look at possibilities for a political solution, to look at reconstruction and rehabilitation, to look at human rights circumstances and to look overall at the possible role that Australia might play and the support which Australia might offer. All members of the delegation went to Bougainville with open minds. We sought not to pre-judge the issues. We realised that the six-year war which had raged had been far too long and far too bloody for anyone to arrive and, in a few days, make all the pronouncements and draw all the conclusions. But we wanted to listen and observe, and discuss with people, particularly those most affected, just how a solution might be achieved.

  I will go to the grave with the sight of Arawa general hospital burnt to the ground. Regardless of who was responsible for an atrocity such as that, I do not think any of us in the delegation will ever put out of our minds the sight of the buildings and facilities of Arawa general hospital, its magnificent equipment, its capacity to deliver services to the people of the island, in ruins. It was the finest facility of its kind in the south west Pacific and it was one of those terrible casualties of a war. The human cost has been very great. The cost in services to the people of Bougainville has been enormous.

  Our delegation grew aware very quickly of the payback cycle which is still occurring on the island. In the Sohano general hospital we talked with young soldiers of the Papua New Guinea defence forces who had been wounded in a fire fight which had occurred just recently. One young soldier in particular made the point that the BRA soldier who had shot him, whom he knew personally, had already been killed by his friends in the Resistance, in the Papua New Guinea militia. That cycle has to be broken.

  On the other hand, our delegation at Tonu saw a reconciliation ceremony which was very moving and indicative of the prospects for peace. It suggested a way forward. We saw, for example, several score of former BRA soldiers being welcomed back into the local community at Tonu and Konga. One very prominent citizen was the widow of Mr Tony Anugu, a national MP who had been murdered during the course of the conflict by the BRA. She stood there, tears streaming down her face, welcoming former BRA soldiers back into the fold of the local community. We were all very moved by that and I underline that that reconciliation part of the Bougainvillian culture is very important for the future.

  When we returned to Australia, as Senator Calvert and I have mentioned in this place, we learned again of the terrible impact of rumours on Bougainville with the assault upon Sir Paul Lupun and his family. Sir Paul, a very distinguished Bougainvillian who has served in the national parliament on a previous occasion and has been part of landmark decisions affecting the island for the better, was assaulted because there was some rumour that the Australian delegation had given him 30,000 kina for speaking with him. His home was burnt to the ground and his family terrorised. I understand from Sir Julius Chan, with whom I raised the matter last week, that Sir Paul has recovered, which is very good news. But the impact of rumour on the island on fringe elements, on criminals and on those who would resort to the power of the gun to achieve an easy political end very cheaply can never be minimised.

  So we saw the need, we saw the dislocation, we saw the hardship. We learnt of the Australian role. The Australian role has been generous in terms of our aid and assistance. It has been effective: it has been supportive. I place on record the manner in which we were assisted by AIDAB throughout the time that we were on Bougainville.

  There is an Australian obligation. There is no question of that. I think everyone in the parliament is aware of that. In earlier colonial times perhaps we did not always act with the sensitivity that certain circumstances required. Perhaps at Panguna Australians in a private capacity could also have acted with greater sensitivity. There are legitimate grievances on Bougainville, there are real concerns and there are genuine issues that have to be addressed in the course of finding a peaceful settlement. But everyone within our delegation is absolutely convinced, as a consequence of our visit between 18 and 22 April, that there is no military resolution to the conflict whatsoever. The PNGDF cannot crush the secessionists by force of arms and neither can secession be won by force of arms. The bloodshed is entirely futile. We hoped that our delegation would act as a catalyst for a peaceful settlement and a circuit breaker.

  We travelled extensively on the island. We talked widely and openly to people. We had effective dialogue with people. We talked directly and honestly with people in the care centres and beyond at Loloho, Arawa, Wakunai, Tonu and Konga. We talked with people about their concerns, their fears, and their aspirations. We were accompanied by two Papua New Guinean MPs who assisted us greatly. We saw the rehabilitation and reconstruction that was under way, particularly at Tonu and Konga, which was very encouraging.

  As a consequence of that visit, we have made a series of recommendations detailed in chapter 6 of our report, again agreed unanimously. I will deal with several of them in the brief time available to me. I reiterate: there is no military solution; a cease-fire must be brought into being. Both sides ought to commit themselves to that end and to that objective. There should be talks. The talks that are apparently under way, as reported in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, are very encouraging. The island of Bougainville ought, over time, progressively to be opened up to humanitarian assistance, to non-government organisations, to the churches—in particular, the Catholic church has experienced some problems recently—to the media for scrutiny and to more MPs from neighbouring countries in particular.

  The greater the involvement in a peace process the better the result will be. The dialogue between the parties to the conflict, which apparently is in the process of being established, in a secure environment, is absolutely critical. We really do not want to see any more breakdowns in the form of the Honiara and Endeavour accords. It is encouraging that the process apparently advanced so far in private does augur well for the future.

  There have been human rights problems on the island that have been extensively documented by Amnesty International on both sides of the conflict. There needs to be a process of accountability. Those responsible must be brought to justice. At times an amnesty might be appropriate; compensation might be appropriate to break the cycle of payback. Reconciliation is certainly an integral part of the Bougainvillian culture and needs to be brought to bear. Overall, our delegation is of the very firm and clear view that the rule of law must return to the island as the security situation is guaranteed and as the peace process unfolds and is applied with an even hand and fairly. That is why the announcement by Prime Minister Wingti of the Human Rights Commission and the police complaints unit to be established on Buka Island is so positive and so encouraging.

  We talked of the framework which might enable the peace process to go forward. We looked at a very definite time frame, and an agreed agenda and chair for the talks. We also looked at Australian technical assistance for border management with the Solomons to resolve the problems that have characterised the border over the last five to six years. There is an Australian role in promoting talks and discussion and underpinning the process—there is no question about that. There is a further role for Australia in reconstruction and rehabilitation once the peace process has resulted in a settlement.

  Last week as a courtesy I took an advance copy of our report to Port Moresby for Prime Minister Wingti and Foreign Minister Sir Julius Chan to enable Papua New Guinea to respond very close to the time at which Senator Evans will deliver the Australian government's response. Could I say, without breaking the confidentiality of the discussions I had, that I was very encouraged by their response. They were pleased with the fact that Australia has sought to play a constructive and positive role, and that we have been very serious in our examination at both parliamentary and government levels.

  I am encouraged also by the letter which I have received from and the discussions I have had with Mr Moses Havini, the representative in Australia of the Bougainville interim government. Again, without breaking the confidentiality of those discussions, that was a positive response. So there is no question that the groundwork is there for discussions to continue and to produce results in terms of an atmosphere of trust over time being established.

  In terms of the manner in which the delegation was able to work on Bougainville, I must acknowledge the contribution of the fourth estate—the media—both Australian and Papua New Guinean, who travelled with us. What we saw, they saw. In that respect, they were able to report very accurately on circumstances on the island.

  In mentioning circumstances on the island, the overwhelming sentiment of everyone with whom we talked—be they officials or military; be they people in the care agencies; be they people who were local community leaders; be they ordinary folk, because our delegation at times broke up and walked right out into the middle of the crowds to talk with people about their needs and their concerns—is for peace, for a negotiated settlement, and for a return to harmony and normalcy. The values of the people of Bougainville Island are very much like the values of our own communities in Australia. We could detect almost no difference. People wanted their children to be able to go to school; they wanted their families to be able to live in peace; they wanted work for people; they wanted communities to be able to prosper. Of course, at the moment, that is simply impossible on most of the island. Prospects have probably not been better for a peaceful settlement. The chances for reconciliation have probably not been more promising than they are at the moment.

  I would like to conclude my brief remarks with a quote about another war that ought never to have been fought, a tragedy that ought never to have occurred. I refer to the remarks of Senator Robert Francis Kennedy on 18 March 1968, when he broke with President Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War. Senator Kennedy said about bringing that war to an end—his words apply with equal force and equal integrity to the war that has savaged Bougainville Island:

It must be ended and it can be ended in a peace of brave men who have fought each other with a terrible fury, each believing that he alone was in the right . . . Now, while there is still time for some [of their prayers] to be partly answered, now is the time to stop.