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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1481

Senator MARGETTS (12.40 p.m.) —The report of the parliamentary delegation to Bougainville is certainly welcomed by the Greens. I am glad that there was a commitment on behalf of the government and parliamentarians to send a delegation to Bougainville. I am also glad that the delegation has recommended in its possible timetable for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that there be an emphasis on consultation and community meetings. The root causes of the conflict are obviously not going to fade away, and I hope Australia can provide some of the most urgent requirements such as medicines, food and clothing.

  We welcome the delegation's conclusion that there can be no military solution, nor cessation through force of arms, on the island of Bougainville. The concerns of people will have to be dealt with in a political forum. Given the perseverance of armed forces over five years of fighting, we can expect fighting to continue if the concerns of people are not met in peaceful forums.

  We have several concerns, however: one of them being the fact that the delegation did not get to meet with the current representatives of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. At least the delegation's report recognises this as a problem, but it does not help place confidence in the process suggested when one of the major parties to the conflict could not be consulted. The implication of 1.6 on page 2 is that the delegation and others were aware beforehand that it would be reporting to the Papua New Guinea minister for foreign affairs and trade and the Papua New Guinea government. I hope this was not a signal to the BRA that the delegation was clearly identifying with one side of this tragic conflict.

  The recommendation on tying aid to projects specifically in Bougainville is a good way to avoid misdirection of funds, but we are puzzled at why there should be aid through the defence cooperation program. That program is purely a military allocation of funds, equipment and training; and Australia needs to recognise that its military aid program has only served to escalate the conflict.

  We would certainly like to see a peace dividend where humanitarian aid would be available from a decrease in military aid, but we do not see the Australian government being best placed to provide humanitarian aid through a military program. It is a program administered by the Defence Department whose members are probably neither skilled nor able to provide humanitarian aid.

  A much more preferable option would be a peace dividend where humanitarian aid would be available from a decrease in military aid, and provided to non-government organisations which have had experience in these matters. The delegation has recommended that aid programs should be carried out by Papua New Guinea civilian agencies rather than the Papua New Guinea defence force. Why cannot this be similar for Australia?

  The Australian government should take care over the possible long-term repercussions of its actions in this current conflict. It should not be seen as a course of action taken so that Australian companies can open huge mining operations on Bougainville, or so that Australia can freely sell weapons to Papua New Guinea and other nations in the region.

  We are very disturbed to hear that the absence of medical personnel, particularly in the BRA areas, has led to many deaths. We still need to follow through on the Amnesty International recommendations to deal with human rights and medical problems. The blockade must cease so that proper contact may be established.

   We were astounded to see that the key issue to this conflict—the giant open-cut copper mine of a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto which has caused massive environmental destruction and has been an impetus to the incorporation of Bougainville into Papua New Guinea—was not discussed by the delegation. Section 1.3 indicates that:

The delegation did not discuss the future of the mine and believes that the resumed operation of the mine should only be addressed after there is a return to normality on Bougainville.

This represents a serious omission because, in our view, firstly, it implies that the wishes of Bougainvilleans in regard to the mine have little validity until they accept incorporation into Papua New Guinea; secondly, it also implies lack of support to deal with the serious environmental problems until Papua New Guinea regains control.

  There has been some comment in the media about sending a peacekeeping force to Bougainville, comprising forces from Fiji and possibly other nations, with logistical and financial support from Australia. At this stage it seems to be a rather gung-ho approach and I hope that the more modest proposals of community meetings and peace talks with neutral observers are given time to take place.

  The Greens support local autonomy and decision making. The situation in Bougainville has been and remains unacceptable. It is hard to see, considering the various restrictions within the reporting structure of the delegation, how this delegation has improved the situation.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.