PORT MORBESBY - There is potential for another "regional crisis" in the Pacific if the people of Bougainville vote for independence but are unable to reach an agreement with the Papua New Guinea government to ratify it, a Lowy Institute research paper is warning.
The people of Bougainville will head to the polls next month and they will have two options on their ballot papers: greater autonomy or independence from PNG.
It is widely anticipated that the vote will be for independence, however, the final decision will be made by the PNG Parliament.
PNG and Bougainville are required to hold negotiations after the referendum and present an option for the parliament to vote on.
The research paper from the Lowy Institute warns that if the vote is to separate from PNG, any attempt by PNG, Australia, or others to deny or persuade against Bougainville Independence could lead Bougainville to issue a unilateral declaration of independence, which could be recognised by some Pacific countries and China.
The report said in that scenario the "potential for another serious security crisis in the region is real".
The paper examines Australia's "long history and complicated relationship" with Bougainville, which, along with the rest of PNG, was under Australia's administration for 60 years until 1975.
"With geostrategic rivalry growing across the Pacific, Australia will need to step up its engagement and consider further policy approaches to Bougainville if it wishes to remain a trusted peace and security broker in Melanesia," the report found.
It said critical to Australia's interests is "averting another security crisis in the region for which it is the primary security guarantor and principal development partner".
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