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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 1013


Senator MARGETTS (6.06 p.m.) —I believe that a very important international issue has arisen that involves Australia, and I refer to the peace process that is in train on Bougainville between the Bougainville interim government, Sam Kaouna who is the leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea government led by Sir Julius Chan. The cease-fire agreement occurred in Honiara on 9 September—only a couple of weeks ago—between those parties.

  This agreement occurred on neutral territory on the Solomon Islands. Neutrality was the major theme of the talks and it was hoped that it would help lower the guard of people who had been at war for over six years, and would also tame their suspicions. This approach worked well and people on both sides began to talk to each other again after an age. They found that they were talking the same language.

  The cease-fire agreement was signed in Honiara and the Bougainvillean and Papua New Guinea representatives agreed to the following points: firstly, they agreed to a cease-fire; secondly, they agreed to lift the blockade on 10 October, the same day that the peace talks would begin in Arawa; thirdly, they agreed to hold a pan-Bougainville conference; and, fourthly, they agreed to have a South Pacific peacekeeping force on Bougainville that would be neutral and would have a United Nations mandate, and all parties would be consulted on the decision. The peacekeepers were to be made up of troops from Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu.

  However, very quickly after the Honiara meeting ended, Australia pushed ahead with its own plans for peacekeeping which by-passed the Bougainvillean negotiators. With utmost efficiency, Australia broke two parts of the cease-fire agreement. We found out that they had been reinforcing the blockade by sending in the Royal Australian Navy on a ship patrolling the border between the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

  If we cast our minds back to the June report of the Australian delegation to Bougainville led by Senator Loosley, we see that the Australian position then and now was that the blockade needed to be enforced to force the BRA to a negotiating position. A blockade would not only stop arms, but it would have serious humanitarian ramifications. Yet the delegation insisted that the blockade be further tightened, knowing that no medicine, food, clothing et cetera would be able to get through to help innocent civilians. So the Australian government is again reiterating this recurring theme of the blockade and is sending in the Royal Australian Navy, which was never a part of the cease-fire agreement.

  The government has also appointed command of the entire peacekeeping force, although the members of the force are from the South Pacific nations. This command will take the form of Australian force commander Brigadier Peter Abigail, who will work closely with deputy force commander Setu Tupou from Tonga and Savenaca Draunidalo, head of operations of the Fiji military forces. Australia will also provide the ships, helicopters and logistical and financial support for the peacekeeping force. Australia basically told the little countries of Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu what was happening with the peacekeeping force. As reported in AAP, `Australia put its view and stuck to it', and the little countries had to agree if our government maintained that they could not provide all the equipment without Australia being in charge of the operation.

  The major question here is why Australia is taking these specific actions in regard to the Bougainville peace process when any party's help in bringing the warring parties together must be neutral. Australia could claim that it believes it had nothing to do with the civil war in Bougainville, although CRA has a lot to answer for in its management of the workers and the social and environmental implications of the Panguna copper mine which the local people opposed.

  But it really does not matter whether Australia believes it is at fault. If there is a perception among the parties involved that Australia is part of the problem, our very presence will jeopardise the peace process. This is what has happened as a consequence of Australia trying to muscle in and play the heavy regional power.

  I will quote Sam Kaona, leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army with his views of Australia's part in all this. He believes that the BRA has been completely left out of the negotiations over the peacekeeping force and is angry about Australian interference and our growing involvement in the Bougainville peace process, especially on the issue of patrolling the border. He said:

The border is to be monitored by a third party. We do not consider Australia as a third party in this dispute, they are primary.

It is evident that Australia is interfering in and threatening a very fragile peace process. The government needs to start respecting the sovereignty of nations in sorting out their own problems and only offer assistance without bully-boy tactics and without trying to get a hand in in the resolution of the conflict.

  We respect the sovereignty of nations like Indonesia and refuse to criticise, let alone interfere with, their affairs in case it damages our trade and defence relationship. But we have a different rule of thumb for Papua New Guinea and Bougainville. The Australian government should carefully consider its position because if peace talks break down now it will have a lot to answer for and blame will come its way from the Bougainvilleans.

  The government does not have a clean record on Papua New Guinea. We give them military aid and training, equipment, helicopters and munitions to use against the Bougainvilleans. We have been the major figure in the arming and training of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, with over half of the force trained by Australians since the conflict began in 1988.

  Australia needs to urgently consider its role in the Bougainville peace process before it does real damage. The peace talks have not yet moved to tackle the hard issues such as a negotiated level of independence or autonomy for Bougainvilleans. As the peace talks get tougher it will not take much for Australia or anyone else to derail the talks. If the process meets obstacles and goes back to square one it will be even harder next time to get both sides back to the negotiating table.