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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1476


Senator CALVERT (12.15 p.m.) —I too would like to make some brief remarks about the visit of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Bougainville. I make the point from the outset that whilst one is in opposition one does not very often get the opportunity to do something positive for this country. I certainly appreciate the opportunity given to me by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans, and also by my then leader, Dr John Hewson, to be part of this delegation.

  I agree with the comments made so far that it was certainly a very timely visit—a circuit-breaker, as I think Senator Loosley called it. From my own observations, I would say that all parties involved certainly needed an excuse to get together, and we provided it. This report embodies what happened while we were there but, since then, everything has been happening around it. As Senator Loosley said, a lot of this is because of the positive press, particularly from Mary-Louise O'Callaghan who joined us on the delegation, and Lucy Palmer and Sean Dorney. Today I was very encouraged to see in the Sydney Morning Herald the comments about Senator Loosley, who did a fine job leading the delegation. Over the last few weeks he has shown very fine diplomatic skills.

  I think we all agree that the ball has to keep rolling, that we cannot afford to stop and look back. Presenting this report personally to Sir Julius Chan was a very fine move. Today I read in the Canberra Times that Francis Ona, the acknowledged president of the Bougainville resistance people, has made statements calling for peace, and supportive of the pan-Bougainville process. I think that really makes all members of the delegation feel the time we spent there was most worthwhile.

  I agree with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senator Loosley that the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Mr Paias Wingti, and Sir Julius Chan should be congratulated for the way they took us in, the openness of their approach to the whole matter and the way in which they have it followed through. Sir Julius has been having talks behind the scenes as an ongoing process, and the foreign minister noted this in the government's response.

  As has been stated, when we went there we all had different views, some perhaps more way-out than others, but it was very pleasing at the finish to see that we all came up with the same result. Not only that, but another report by the Catholic bishops in PNG from people on the ground which came out not long after ours virtually supported the comments and suggestions that we made.

  There is no doubt that there is no substitute for having been there. In 1988 I visited Bougainville as a member of a delegation with Bob McMullan, Robert Tickner, Warwick Smith, Michael Lee and Alasdair Webster. My impression of that particular island was that it was an island paradise with a great future in tourism. We went to Arawa island where I saw the hospital and visited the provincial headquarters that had just been completed that people were so proud of. When I went back there as part of this delegation I saw the havoc that has been created over the whole island and particularly around Arawa. As mentioned by Senator Loosley, the hospital has been burned to the ground, the hotel we stayed at has been flattened and the provincial headquarters of which the people were so proud is being used as a temporary shelter by refugees. One could see, although it had been wrecked and ruined, what a marvellous building it had been.

  The town itself was just a deserted ghost town. Importantly, though, most of the housing seemed to be intact. Once security is returned to the area, perhaps life can go on, because it was a thriving town of 10,000 people. Aarawa reminded me very much of Rabaul before it was wrecked. Only about 500 people live there at the moment. Of course, the airport was closed. I guess a lot of work has to be done there.

  While Senator Bourne and Senator Loosley were having discussions with some of the village people, Ian Sinclair and I were led off by some of the troops because we wanted to have a look at the Panguna wharf and what was left of the boating facilities. Stephen Loosley said he will never forget the Arawa hospital. I do not think I will ever forget my feelings—I am sure Ian Sinclair feels the same—when driving around the old wharf area and looking at the destruction that had been caused there. It was almost like a moonscape. The feeling I had was similar to the feeling I had when I walked into the Dachau concentration camp some years ago. We found out afterwards that the reason I had this dread and horror was that it was the killing fields of the revolution; 100 bodies were supposed to have been secreted under the wharf. We were quite glad to get out of that area.

  Most of the recommendations are self-explanatory. Senator Loosley and the foreign minister have already commented on most of our recommendations. This week was the commemoration of D-day. Something that lives in my mind is the day we arrived at Buka Island and had to transfer to Sohano Island for our accommodation. We went across by what was rather like a landing craft, only a much smaller version. I suppose that was our D-day—landing on Sohano Island, where our accommodation was for the two days. The thing I remember about Sohano Island was that the only hospital in Bougainville was located there. Conditions at that hospital were nothing short of horrific. There were no doctors on Bougainville at all. They had all left for varying reasons. A lot of them left because they were not getting paid enough money; some had left because they had been shot at.

  The hospital highlighted one of the problems that is going to have to be faced by those people who are trying to rehabilitate and restore Bougainville. A figure of between 200,000 and 500,000 kina was supposed to have been spent on upgrading the hospital. For the amount of money that was supposed to have been spent, all we could see was a little annex that had been built to provide an operating theatre. I guess that could be built here for not more than about $4,000 or $5,000. The hospital was as clean as it could possibly be made, but it was certainly overcrowded.

  We saw the remnants of some of the resistance troops who had been shot three weeks beforehand in the south of Bougainville, where I think 14 people were killed and 20-odd were wounded. Most of them were suffering from horrific wounds and most of them were in traction because their wounds were leg wounds. The traction was usually a bit of rope with a rock on the end of it. They were on open verandas and the overflow was in army tents.

  When we moved on to the other parts of the hospital, we found that in some of the very crowded wards there were people with different diseases lumped together—pregnant women and people suffering from tuberculosis, leprosy and malaria—with hardly enough room to move between the beds. I suppose they could be called beds; they looked more like desktops to me. When Ian Sinclair and I were walking back to our accommodation in the semi-darkness, we found a repository for hospital waste—the waste had just been thrown against a tree. So there is obviously plenty of scope for assistance.

  The NGOs are doing a fine job with what they have. I was very impressed by a determined young coordinator for the Red Cross, Pauline Onsa. She displayed remarkable leadership under very trying conditions. She made it clear to us that getting supplies was very difficult. When they did get them, most of them were out of date. There is a huge task in front of those people who are going to try to return some sort of normalcy to Bougainville.

  From the evidence we had from Ruby Mirenka, I believe the situation on the other side, the BRA side, cannot be much better. In fact, we suspect that it is much worse. She went on to list some of the casualties, and they appear in the report. Some 525 people died in those areas between 1990 and 1993. I do not think we have any doubt about that at all.

  I would like to comment on our security. Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Young needs to be congratulated for doing a fine job under very difficult circumstances. I think he was very pleased to see the back of us. We took note of what we were supposed to do, but we could never tell what was around the corner. In fact, we did get a couple of scares.

  In the appendix to the report, there are copies of speeches made by influential chairmen of different authorities. Mr Naona Taniung, the Chairman of the Central Bougainville Interim Authority, certainly made it known where Australia should be when he said:

. . . the Bougainville crisis which has touched our hearts and souls dearly, must not be isolated from Australia. Your country helped to create this crisis. You were, and continue to be part and parcel of the Bougainville crisis one way or another.

All members of the delegation had that rammed home to them wherever we went. In fact, speeches made by other dignitaries, such as Clement Dana from the North East Interim Commission, mentioned Australia's role and what they expected us to do. Nick Peniai made an excellent speech in the Tonu area, down south. He concluded by being very critical of those people who are causing problems within Australia by spreading rumours and whatever. At the end of the day, he said:

Tell them that if they are undecided as to what good they can do, JUST LEAVE US IN PEACE.

I do not think I will ever forget that. Thomas Anis, the Chairman of the Buka Interim Authority, brought up the proverbial problem of the mine. We do not see that the mine has anything to do with the Bougainville crisis at the moment. If it ever happens to open at some time down the track, it may be a problem.

  Finally, I would like to thank all those members of the delegation for their support and friendship during the visit, particularly Margaret Swieringa, who did such a fine job helping to put this report together. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is not very often that we get the opportunity to do something constructive in this place, but I feel very proud that I have had the opportunity to do so. I hope that in some way we may have helped to push the Bougainville crisis along to a peaceful solution.