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Brief encounter, big step: Nudging closer to Indonesia

Bougainville: PNG’s very wicked policy problem


A independence demoADELAIDE – In his thoughtful exposition, ‘What should we do with Bougainville’, Joe Ketan neatly outlines what is described as a 'wicked' policy problem, meaning one for which there is no good solution.

It is abundantly clear that, if Bougainville's demand for independence is not acceded to by the Papua New Guinean parliament, it is likely a unilateral declaration of independence will be declared by an angry and frustrated Autonomous Bougainville Government.

President Toroama’s report to the Bougainville people below and many of his previous statements make it clear that 2027 is the outer limit of his government’s expectations for independence to be ceded.

While PNG’s parliament has the final say, PNG’s government has no realistic capacity to prevent independence if that is what Bougainville wants.

To attempt to withhold independence will drag PNG and Bougainville into another civil war.

Short of unlikely third party backing, it is likely PNG would lack the resources to win such a war, not to mention alienating a great many of its friends in the south-west Pacific.

In this scenario an independent Bougainville could become yet another impoverished mini-state, of which the world already has abundance.

But PNG’s problems would not end there.

Its approval of Bougainville independence may trigger pressure from other provinces who feel ignored or let down by Port Moresby's ruling elite.

New Ireland and East New Britain have long sought greater autonomy and in July 2018 the O’Neill government signed an inter-government agreement supposed to start a process of granting greater autonomy to New Ireland, East New Britain and Enga.

The risk is that PNG might disintegrate into a collection of mostly landlocked mini-states, all of them incapable of lifting their populations out of poverty.

A fallback position might be the creation of Federation of Melanesian States, with a relatively weak national government having responsibility for foreign affairs, defence, customs and excise and, possibly, tax collection.

The tax revenues could be fairly distributed through a version of the Australian Grants Commission, whereby a process laboriously titled 'horizontal fiscal equalisation' to ensures a relatively equitable distribution of resources across Australian states.

Whether PNG's politicians, almost all of them predominantly self-interested, are willing to work through such complex issues is anyone's guess.

Bougainville is a policy conundrum that would challenge even the wisest let alone the collection of chancers and carpetbaggers that PNG politics typically produces.

Still, you never know, miracles happen from time to time.


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Chips Mackellar

If it is true that the PNG government has no realistic capacity to prevent Bougainville from becoming independent, why wait for 2027?

Waiting for the corruption-ridden PNG parliament to make an intelligent decision in this matter is pointless.

Bougainville should unilaterally declare independence as soon as it can arrange for a multinational to reopen the Panguna mine, and as soon as the appropriate separation arrangements can be made.

It doesn't matter whether the PNG government agrees with these separation arrangements or not. Bougainville should go it alone, and as soon as practicable, maybe by 1 January 2023.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Joe says:

"The burden will be on PNG parliamentarians to determine how to appease Bougainvilleans without causing Papua New Guinea to disintegrate.

"That said, I believe that parliamentarians should be given the freedom to vote according to their conscience rather than following party lines or bending to some other external pressure to vote in a particular way.

"Any member of parliament who would sell his vote would be selling his country. This MP would be just as guilty as the one who grants resource development licenses in exchange for money."

"I hope this will not happen when parliament sits at some stage to vote on the future of Bougainville."

For a moment there I forgot we are talking about Papua New Guinea and the idea that the vote on Bougainville independence might be bought.

There will probably be enough shonky politicians in the next PNG parliament willing to take cash for their vote on the issue.

Maybe President Toroama should start hassling the mining industry with a view to raising the requisite bribery money now.

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