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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17279

Dr WASHER (2:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on progress in bringing lasting peace to Bougainville? How is Australia contributing to that peace process?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Moore for his question and say how much I appreciate members on this side of the House showing such an interest in Bougainville and in Papua New Guinea more generally. For nine years a civil war raged in Bougainville. Some three or four times as many people died as a result of that civil war as have died in Northern Ireland since 1969 when the troubles there began. As a neighbour of Australia, Papua New Guinea sought some support from Australia. Efforts were made, but it was not until the wash-up of the Sandline crisis in 1997 that real progress was made. At the time of the cease-fire in Bougainville in 1998, which was brought about with substantial assistance from New Zealand and Australia, a peace monitoring group was set up to oversee the establishment of a Bougainville peace agreement. That agreement was signed in August 2001. Under that agreement, 1,900 weapons have been contained, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force has left Bougainville and a constitution for Bougainville has been drafted.

I do not think that any of this would have been possible without the support of Australia and the support of the peace monitoring group which has been led by Australia but assisted by New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu. The life of the peace monitoring group comes to an end on 30 June. From 1 July we will be deploying the Bougainville Transition Team to assist Bougainvilleans in their transition to full, autonomous government, which is part of the peace process. This Bougainville Transition Team will be a small civilian team which will include people from Australia and from New Zealand, and I hope that Fiji and Vanuatu will be able to contribute to the team as well.

Members may be aware that the United Nations has an observer mission in Bougainville. It is their task to verify the second stage of the weapons disposal process. I hope—but I am not sure—that this will happen by the end of this month; that is, in the next few days. That will in turn trigger the establishment of Bougainville's autonomous government. In conclusion to my response to the question from the member for Moore, whilst we accept that there is still more to be done in Bougainville, it is one of the true achievements of this government's foreign policy in recent years that we have been able to assist so substantially in bringing peace to Bougainville, that important part of Papua New Guinea, and that the people of Bougainville are now able to live in peace with the opportunity to build their lives. We will continue to assist Bougainville—it is important to understand that—through the deployment of the Bougainville Transition Team.