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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1478

Senator BOURNE (12.29 p.m.) —Three things were glaringly obvious on our visit to Bougainville: firstly, the tenacity and the courage of the people of Bougainville—I am sure everyone would agree with that; secondly, their overwhelming desire to return to a normal life, which we found absolutely everywhere we went and with everyone we spoke to; and thirdly, and probably most importantly—it has been mentioned before—the fact that there can be no military solution to the crisis on Bougainville. Absolutely no military solution is possible, and all sides have to agree to that. I was very encouraged to see that both sides have come up with some conciliatory remarks in the very recent past, which makes me feel that they do agree with that.

  As Australians, we are in many ways culpable for the problem of Bougainville. We therefore have to take much of the responsibility for finding a solution. I believe we are doing that now. The visit was part of that; the report is part of that; and what the foreign minister has said in response to the report is part of that. We have to be very careful not to be seen as big brother. We have to be very careful not to take such a strong line that we are telling people what to do. We have to suggest solutions and hope that we can help to implement them.

  It is true that we did not go to any BRA areas when we went to Bougainville, and we regret that. We tried to go to BRA areas but were unable to do so. We did not speak to any Bougainvilleans who are currently active in the BRA but we did speak to a few who have been active and who are still somewhat sympathetic. No matter whom we spoke to, to a person they just wanted to get back to normal.

  There have been some very positive and significant actions taken in PNG since our visit. We congratulate the PNG government, the BRA and everyone concerned on those moves. Suggestions of a multinational force from Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga are excellent. I hope we can facilitate that, possibly through funding.

  The promise to establish a human rights commission is excellent. We look forward to seeing that. I hope we can get frequent updates on how quickly that is being established. I hope we will be able to send representatives of our Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission to help with that establishment and I believe that Senator Gareth Evans is doing something in relation to that. Senator Evans also made an excellent point about establishing a police complaints unit in the North Solomons province of Bougainville.

  The talks between the PNG government and the BRA are a very good first step in confidence building measures, and I am very pleased to see that they have happened. As I said before, the conciliatory comments coming from the PNG government and the BRA make us think that we have provided a catalyst and that neither side is now being very hardline. They are both taking the conciliatory line and are prepared to talk with each other.

  Our recommendations are self-evident and we stand by every single one of them. Recommendations 6.12 and 6.13 mention the defence forces, and I clarify them in case there is any confusion. We are saying that defence forces on the island at the moment should allocate priority to engineering services, health, transport and infrastructure. We should be able to use the defence cooperation funds we are currently spending in PNG in those areas. We think that they are the priority areas. Infrastructure has to be restored; transport has to be restored; health, which is the most important thing, has to be restored; and engineering services have to be restored. We are not saying, `Send more troops.' We want to see the troops that are already there doing things to help with the infrastructure. We want to see them doing things to help with what is happening on the island.

  Confidence building measures, such as informal talks between the PNG government and the BRA, are an excellent first step, and agreement on a chair and on the agenda for the talks can also help substantially in building up confidence in the process and its eventual success. We hope that also happens very soon.

  Some points have already been agreed in the Endeavour Accord and the Honiara Accord. Four of those points were agreed in both accords. I hope that they can form the basis of the next agreement and that it will be one that will stick. The four points already agreed are: that the safety of all personnel on the island during any peace accord is guaranteed; that the return of services—health, education, communications and infrastructure—is most important and urgent; and that the long-term political future of Bougainville must be addressed but—as both accords said—not now. That point is still equally important—that it must be addressed, but not now.

  Once we have a peace—we sincerely hope that we will have it very soon—there needs to be an ongoing effort to maintain it. Probably the most substantial way that can be achieved is by the PNG government looking very seriously at provincial governments and the autonomy it allows the provinces. I recommend going back to the structure put in place when PNG was set up in the 70s. That original structure provided for provisional governments, and at the time the push for provincial government was led by Bougainville. The structure allowed for provincial governments at different levels. If one province was not as advanced as another, it did not have a government that could do as much. I think that provincial governments are important and that having some autonomy within Bougainville with a provincial government is the way to go to maintain a peace once it is achieved.

  I would like to mention Sir Paul Lapun, whom Senator Calvert and Senator Loosley mentioned earlier. He is a very impressive person. He was very strongly involved in the government of Papua New Guinea during the time that it was being set up and afterwards. He spoke to us and what he said was very impressive. He did not take either side, pointing out the faults and the good points on both sides. He suggested that a peace was possible. He felt that it was a matter of getting away from the hardline and coming towards the middle. He made some very good recommendations.

  After we returned we heard that he had been attacked because of the amazing rumour mill that operates on Bougainville. His house had been burnt, he had been physically attacked, and his family—I was going to say that they were on the street, but there are no streets—had to leave their home and were in one of the refugee centres. That is a matter of enormous regret and it does not help anyone's reputation on Bougainville. It is something we all find quite appalling and it should never have happened.

  I would like to extend my thanks to the Bougainvilleans. The thing I will remember is the extraordinary openness and friendliness of all the Bougainvilleans with whom we came in contact. They are a most charming people. When we were welcomed—we were welcomed everywhere—it was not just a performance; we were made to feel part of the community. That was very instructive to us and we felt that we had more responsibility to the community because we were part of it. I felt very strongly about that.

  I would like to thank the PNG government, especially Prime Minister Wingti and the foreign minister, Sir Julius Chan. They both took an enormous interest in what we were doing. It could not have been easy having us just appear, going to Bougainville and doing something that they were not really sure would work. They were not really sure that we were safe. They were not really sure that we should have been there. But they were very open.

  We got very good greetings from everyone with whom we came in contact. They were as helpful as they could be and I think the whole thing worked very well. The two PNG MPs who came around Bougainville with us, Nakikus Konga and Kevin Masive, were both very impressive. I hope they do well.

  I extend special thanks to the staff of the Australian High Commission who came around with us. The High Commissioner Mr Bill Farmer, David Hallett, Gary Young and Bill Costello were all excellent value. They were thoroughly professional, remarkably efficient and unfailingly courteous. It never ceases to amaze me that Australian diplomatic staff can arrange almost anything almost anywhere and never lose their temper. It was very impressive.

  Last but not least, I extend my thanks to my fellow members of the delegation. I would say that we were all colleagues and friends. We got along very well, which does not always happen, under unusual and difficult circumstances. Margaret Swieringa, the secretary to the delegation, was excellent value.

  I sincerely hope—I am sure that everybody will agree with me—that peace will be achieved soon. I firmly believe that peace is possible in Bougainville and that it is very near. I do not think that it will take much to achieve it. It has to be grabbed right now. The momentum must be kept up. It is my most sincere hope that our visit and our report will provide the catalyst to bring about that peace.