An Analysis of Papua New Guinea’s Political Condition and Trends Through to 2025

last updated: August 2017


Papua New Guinea entered its 2017 National Election after a tumultuous period in the country’s politics and economy, and there remains much uncertainty about the election process, with significant implications for the country’s future. In the last ten years key political, bureaucratic, and regulatory institutions have struggled and in some cases, failed. These struggles have been more profound under the O’Neill government despite some tangible advances in the country’s ambitious Vision 2050 roadmap.

There is a widespread desire across the country for robust and independent institutions to ensure economic gains are transparently and sustainably managed. The ultimate question for many voters in the 2017 general elections was not who would form the next government, but who would be the most credible leader. With elections now over, and the O’Neill government returning for a second term, what does Papua New Guinea expect of the new government and those in power?

This analysis attempts to address how key trends in PNG’s politics will impact upon both the bureaucracy and regulatory environment. It will identify some of the key actors and how they are likely to change. It will discuss current political trends, their impact on the regulatory and legislative environments and how likely they are to continue in the future. Finally, it assesses the prospects of continuing dysfunction in PNG politics, the further marginalisation and deterioration of the bureaucracy, and how this destructive course might be avoided.

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Changing Geopolitical Dynamics For Papua New Guinea

last updated: August 2017


The new O’Neill government faces a rapidly changing external environment as it struggles to manage a significant domestic economic downturn and unprecedented pressures on the national budget. Australia remains Papua New Guinea’s closest foreign partner; by far its largest bilateral aid partner, trading partner and foreign investor, but its influence is diminishing as that of other actors is growing. China is an increasingly important player — as a trade partner, investor in infrastructure and source of foreign loans, as well as in the small to medium business sector. Relations with other Asian nations are expanding. Large foreign companies are exerting more influence on government policy than most nation state development and trade partners of Papua New Guinea can hope to exercise. These relationships are likely to come into sharper focus over the next year, as the PNG government prepares to host APEC in 2018. It is not clear that the new PNG government has the capacity to pursue the national interest abroad while it is preoccupied with a complex set of challenges at home.

How Papua New Guinea Interacts With The World

The Pacific Islands region, once remote from the global centre of economic gravity, is now benefiting from its proximity to the centre of global growth that is China, East Asia, and India. The neglected and relatively poor Pacific Islands end of the Asia-Pacific region is increasingly attracting the attention of outside powers as its neighbourhood has grown wealthier. China’s profile in the Pacific Islands has grown enormously. China’s interests in Papua New Guinea have predominantly focused on trade and investment but in the last year Beijing has for the first time leveraged these interests to put public pressure on the PNG government and other governments in the region to support its actions in the South China Sea, signalling a shift in dynamics in its relations with the island states.

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Current Views on Resumption of Large-Scale Mining in Bougainville

The current (2016) relationship between local-level politics and large-scale mining in Bougainville has both similarities and differences to that which existed between 1987 and 1989, especially with respect to the extent of community opposition to Large-Scale Mining (LSM). The current situation has of course been deeply influenced by dramatic changes arising from the conflict itself. Although the Panguna mine has been closed since 1989, the possibility of reopening it ensures that LSM is a factor in political relationships between Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Bougainville, and also within Bougainville.

The differences between the two situations include a major shift in the state’s ‘corner’, largely resulting from the 2001 BPA, which made legislative authority over mining available to the ABG. There is also much greater complexity in each of the company, state and community ‘corners’ and in their mutual relationship, along with emergence of a new, multifaceted ‘fourth estate’ corner. Major differences arising from the complex post-conflict situation include: the national government’s much-reduced role in Bougainville as compared to 1988; the ABG’s limited capacity and reach in a situation where several parallel ‘governments’ claim ‘sovereignty’ over all or part of the autonomous region; armed groups remaining a factor to contend with; and numerous fringe foreign mining interests seeking to play significant roles in alliance with different local factions. A major similarity is that multiple Bougainvillean groups with considerable autonomy from one another, aware that important decisions on the future of mining may be made in the foreseeable future, all seek to ensure that their voices are heard.

There is some continuity, too, in aspects of the issues being dealt with, and even in the identity of some key individuals involved in debate. ABG President John Momis, always a strident critic of BCL, who supported Francis Ona in 1987 and 1988, now supports the reopening of Panguna or possible development of a maximum of two other large-scale mines—that limit being set by the ABG’s Bougainville Mining Act 2015. This does not involve a change in the president’s long-term position, since he demands entirely new and fair mining conditions.

New actors in the political process include some of the leaders of nine new mine lease landowner associations established since 2011 to replace the PLA and NPLA, and others associated with the Me’ekamui Government of Unity. More familiar actors include figures formerly associated with both the PLA (Michael Pariu and Lawrence Daveona) and the NPLA (Wendelinus Bitanuma, John Amuna, Philip Miriori and Philip Takaung). For the most part, their positions are similar to that of Momis and the ABG. Nevertheless, the very different social, economic and political context of Bougainville in 2016 has resulted in dramatic changes in debates on the future of mining.

The State ‘Corner’

The state ‘corner’ now involves both the PNG Government and the ABG. Although the ABG became the sole regulator from 2014 under its own mining legislation, national government roles continue. Amongst other things, the PNG Government is the second largest shareholder in BCL, and its legislation continues to cover some mining-related subjects, including occupational health and safety, land and environment. Tension between the two governments centres on the national government’s efforts to remain involved in Bougainville mining matters by taking over Rio Tinto’s equity in BCL.

Soon after it was established in mid-2005, the ABG began considering the possible resumption of LSM, which represented a significant shift from the positions of most Bougainvilleans early in the peace process, when resumption seemed unlikely. Concern about the revenue needed for either autonomy or independence led the first ABG president, Joseph Kabui, to examine this possibility from mid-2005, as did both his successors—James Tanis (2009–10) and John Momis (from 2010). The two main options under consideration have been the reopening of Panguna or the lifting of the 1971 ‘moratorium’ on mineral exploration (preserved under the ABG’s mining laws) with a view to possible developments elsewhere in Bougainville.

Kabui initially considered the first option, favouring potential developers other than BCL —initially a small Australian company called Ord River Resources Ltd. But intense pressure from former BRA commander Sam Kauona shifted Kabui and his cabinet to a second option, favouring a small Canadian company called Invincible Resources Ltd (IRL), which was established by Kauona’s close associate Lindsay Semple, a dual Australian-Canadian citizen, solely for the purpose of mining investment in Bougainville. Semple raised funds from a number of high-risk investors and used the money for a number of ‘development’ projects directed towards gaining ABG support for IRL to establish several new mines, smaller than Panguna, each in partnership with local landowners. The irresistible lure of significant revenue flows, ending the ABG’s reliance on PNG Government grants, seemed to be underwritten by IRL’s 2006 advance of a K20 million loan to the ABG to support ‘capacity building’. In 2008, the ABG signed an agreement with IRL whereby the latter would hold a 70 per cent stake in an entity called Bogenvil Resources Development Corporation (BRDC), supposedly established to implement a multisectoral Bougainville development plan using revenues generated by a virtual monopoly of mining activity beyond Panguna.

Controversies about IRL and BRDC centred on details of the K20 million loan repayment agreement, the failure of the ‘development’ projects, the opacity of the 30 per cent minority shareholding in BRDC, the near monopoly vested in IRL and the extent of indirect IRL control of the ABG. After Kabui died unexpectedly in June 2008, IRL and its ABG backers strove to ensure continued implementation of the development plan, but these efforts ended when Tanis became president in January 2009.
From early 2010, the ABG again examined the possibility of reopening Panguna. High commodity prices, proven reserves, and some existing mine-related infrastructure sustained optimism that reopening could occur within perhaps six years of negotiations commencing. By contrast, experience elsewhere in PNG showed that new mines take more than 15 years to get from exploration to operation. So, while open to other possibilities, the ABG under Tanis and Momis decided that Panguna offered the best prospect of significant revenues around the time of the referendum on independence that is due to be held in 2019. Paradoxically, reopening Panguna also offered the best prospect for meeting the expected high costs of remediating mine-related environmental damage and negative social impacts, such as those experienced by the relocated villages.

After Momis took office in June 2010, initial uncertainty about BCL as the preferred operator of a reopened Panguna mine was resolved in part because mine lease landowner community leaders argued in favour of BCL, preferring the ‘devil they knew’ to a ‘new devil’, mainly because BCL accepted some responsibility for the legacy issues. Uncertainty was also reduced as the result of a three-day ABG workshop on mining policy options, held in March 2011, that clarified the choice between the option of BCL reopening Panguna, an alternative developer doing so, and consideration of alternative prospects.

The ABG has consistently emphasised that no LSM will be permitted without landowner consent. Over three years from mid-2011, the ABG supported the establishment of nine independent associations to represent landowner communities impacted by the Panguna mine communities in considering possible resumption. Over 3,000 landowners voted for association executives at nine separate general meetings. The ABG has consulted the associations but has not sought to influence their positions on mining issues—indeed, there have been occasional tensions between the ABG and some association leaders. Five years on, in 2016, no decision had been made to even initiate negotiations with BCL or any other mining company about reopening Panguna.
Engagement with BCL has mainly been about steps preparatory to possible negotiation, inclusive of arrangements needed for a reconciliation process proposed by more than 50 mine lease landowner leaders who attended the first formal post-conflict meeting with the ABG and a senior BCL representative in July 2012. Extensive discussions have occurred within and between associations, and between them and the ABG, about possible conditions for reopening the mine, which reflects ideas about the primacy of Bougainvillean rights.

The ABG also undertook extensive public consultations about the future of mining, which included consultations about its mining policy in 2010–11, about the future of Panguna and other possible LSM activities in 2013–14, and about its draft mining legislation in 2014–15. In the absence of opinion polling, it is difficult to be certain as to whether there has been a preponderance of views one way or another. Nevertheless, those involved in organising the consultation reported broad community support for resumption of mining. That is consistent with regular feedback to the ABG from the nine Panguna landowner association executives, as well as from the elected ABG members from their own constituencies, including the mine lease areas.
From about 2014, the ABG began seriously examining options other than reopening Panguna. The reasons for this included:

  • falling commodity prices, which made it less likely that the reopening could be financed (at an estimated cost of US$6–8 billion);
  • growing realisation of the extent to which negative sovereign risk assessment could make financing even more difficult;
  • the high expectations of mine lease landowners, former combatants, and others about compensation, not just for mining impacts but also a range of conflict impacts; and
  • the increasingly disruptive activities of small foreign companies linked to different Bougainville factions.

In taking over full regulatory responsibility for mining, the ABG established its own mining department in 2007, negotiated transfer of national government powers (2006–08) and developed its own mining policy (2009–14). It developed its own mining law in two main stages. The first was the Bougainville Mining (Transitional Arrangements) Act, proposed in 2012 and enacted in 2014. This first law was based on PNG’s existing Mining Act, but with significant changes to meet Bougainville’s needs. These included:

  • vesting both the ownership of minerals and powerful veto rights over exploration in the owners of customary land;
  • divesting BCL of its mining tenements, leaving only an exploration licence over the former SML; and
  • imposing a strict prohibition on the operation of more than two very large mines (like Panguna) at one time.

The second stage involved passage of the Bougainville Mining Act in March 2015. It was the product of the policy development process initiated in 2009, incorporated many of the initiatives included in the 2014 Act, and extended landowner rights to include the power of veto over mining development tenements, as well as exploration licences.
While reluctantly accepting the validity of this ABG legislation, the national government was attempting (from 2013) to purchase Rio Tinto’s 53.8 per cent equity in BCL, thus raising its own stake in the company to 72.8 per cent. Opposing this move, the ABG argued that:

  • PNG majority ownership of the mine at the heart of the conflict was unacceptable in Bougainville;
  • the PNG Government was seeking to control Panguna despite the transfer of mining powers to the ABG; and
  • PNG would gain significant control of the Bougainville economy, which would be a sensitive issue in the lead-up to the referendum.

The ABG demanded that, if Rio Tinto divested, then its equity should be ‘gifted’ to the ABG and the landowners, and it should provide significant additional funding to meet corporate responsibilities for mine legacy issues, including extensive environmental, social and human rights impacts, especially for the thousands of relocated people who were now living in appalling conditions. These issues remain unresolved at the time of writing.

The Community ‘Corner’

Just as in 1988–89, this part of the matrix of stakeholder relationships extends well beyond the immediate vicinity of Panguna. Since the 1960s, the significant social and economic impacts of the mine have ensured that most Bougainvilleans have felt that they have some stake in Panguna’s mineral resources. These feelings grew far stronger after the conflict, in which all communities shed blood, many at Ona’s explicit request. Under customary principles applicable in most Bougainvillean cultures, if blood is shed when supporting landowners in land-related conflict, the clan whose blood is shed gains some rights over the land in question. Such principles are referred to widely in public discussions about Panguna.

The three main groups of former combatants are a significant new addition to the ‘community corner’. Theirs have become increasingly prominent voices in public debates since Momis was elected as ABG president in 2010, partly because of suspicions of his PNG Government links. Two of the most significant voices are those of the former BRA leaders Sam Kauona and Ishmael Toroama. Kauona presents as a strident critic of BCL, opposed to the reopening of Panguna and the ABG’s mining policies, despite his own close association since 2004 with foreign corporate mining interests, most notably IRL. For Toroama, a key issue in Panguna-related debate is recognition of the rights of former combatants on the basis of blood shed during the conflict.
Despite the major logistical and financial difficulties involved, the ABG has made extensive efforts to consult widely about the future of LSM, not just with mine lease landowner communities, but amongst Bougainvilleans more generally. Elected executives of the nine landowner associations, representing what could now be as many as 15,000 people in the mine lease areas, have consulted widely with their own communities as well as with the ABG. Consistent with the outcomes of the ABG’s wider process of community consultation, they report broad community support for mining resumption, but only under fair conditions, including redress for past injustices.

The Company ‘Corner’

In June 2016, Rio Tinto announced a plan to transfer its 53.8 per cent stake in BCL to an ‘independent trustee’ that would be jointly owned by the PNG Government and the ABG. Under the terms of this arrangement, Rio aimed to transfer 36.4 per cent of its equity in BCL to the ABG, and 17.4 per cent to the PNG Government. This meant that both would hold an equal proportion (36.4 per cent) of the shares in BCL, since the PNG Government already held 19 per cent. This announcement aroused a storm of protest from nearly all of the Bougainvillean actors mentioned in this chapter, most of whom demanded that the PNG Government should transfer the 17.4 per cent to the ABG so that it would become the majority shareholder. This move was opposed by PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who announced instead that the 17.4 per cent would be transferred to a trust for the benefit of all Bougainvilleans, including the Panguna landowners. This left the PNG Government with its original 19 per cent stake, the ABG with 36.4 per cent, the trust with 17.4 per cent and several thousand small shareholders with a little over 27 per cent.

An account of the details and ramifications of these developments, and the new political process engendered by this turn of events, is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it has not so far led to any significant change in the prospects of reopening the Panguna mine. What it might have done is to limit the scope for continued interference by other foreign companies in the prospective development of LSM projects in Bougainville.

In 1988 there was a small local corporate sector linked to the mine, notably the BDC and the RMTLTF, but both of these entities ceased to operate soon after the conflict began, and it is still unclear what happened to their funds and some of their other assets. By 2016, however, several other sets of corporate interests had emerged, with strong linkages to different Bougainvillean groups.

As previously mentioned, former BRA leader Sam Kauona, supported by a small group of other former combatants, has had close links to dual Australian-Canadian citizen Lindsay Semple since 2004–05. Semple and Kauona have been financially supported by a series of at least three main external investors: the Canadian company IRL from 2004 to 2010; another Canadian company, Morumbi Resources, from 2010 to 2013; and from 2015, New York investment firm Kuhns Brothers. They lost most of their influence over the ABG when Joseph Kabui died in 2008, and their cause then seemed to be lost in 2010 when the investors in IRL lost faith in Semple. However, they soon re-entered the field with Morumbi, seeking exclusive rights to exploration and development in prospective areas through agreements made between Morumbi subsidiaries and small groups of landowners, which they unsuccessfully sought to persuade the ABG to recognise. After Canadian police visited Bougainville in late 2013 to investigate the activities of both IRL and Morumbi, the latter cut its ties to Semple. Since Kuhns Brothers became involved, their activities have included the establishment of a small gold-buying and refining operation, the creation of an investment fund called Bougainville Fund Management LLC, and various proposals for funding development projects outside the mining sector in what appears to be an approach similar to that attempted by IRL.

Since Ona’s death in July 2005, one of the two main sets of self-proclaimed successors to his leadership of the ‘Me’ekamui’ groups claiming to be the legitimate Bougainville government (as alternatives to the ABG) has been the Panguna-based Me’ekamui Government of Unity (MGU). The MGU has also had extensive involvement with a succession of small foreign companies. The first was Australian registered company Tall J Foundation Pty Ltd, involving a group of American citizens who attempted mechanised extraction of gold from the Panguna riverine tailings in 2008. It was followed by Cefeida SA, a company established in 2009 by former Tall J investors, Stewart Sytner and Thomas Megas, to attract investment funds by claiming ‘that they possessed exclusive rights to develop and mine in [Bougainville] … and that such rights “were extremely valuable and rare for outsiders”’. Next was a Canadian company, Transpacific Ventures Ltd, also linked to Sytner. It produced an information memorandum for prospective investors in July 2013, claiming an agreement with the MGU ‘on an exclusive basis for 20 years renewable, to advise the customary landowners (the Me’ekamui) in developing their natural resources sector’ under a new mining law ‘expected to transfer all land and mineral rights on the island of Bougainville and its territorial waters to the Sovereign Me’ekamui Tribal Government (the Me’ekamui)’. In 2014, Transpacific was succeeded by Australian company, United Resources Management Pacific, which was succeeded in 2016 by another Australian company, Central Exploration, both of which were introduced to the MGU by an Australian, Ian Renzie Duncan, who was previously involved in Transpacific Ventures. The companies involved, from about 2012 until at least the end of 2015, paid monthly ‘salaries’ to senior MGU members.

These are just a few of the small corporate entities that have sought access to Bougainville’s mineral resources since the ABG began considering the possibility of renewed LSM. Many have sought to advance their interests with no reference to the ABG. Rather, they have used links with the leaders of local factions (some armed) or have engaged in direct dealings with small landowner groups from prospective areas. The need to control such entities provided a major impetus for the ABG to develop its initial mining legislation in 2012.

The ‘Fourth Estate’

From 1989, the Bougainville conflict attracted considerable international attention, particularly in Australia. Several NGOs and other groups supported the BRA, or Bougainvilleans suffering the impacts of the PNG Government’s air and sea blockade of Bougainville imposed from mid-1990. These supporters included existing organisations and new ones established for the purpose, such as the Independent Bougainville Information Service, Australian Humanitarian Aid for Bougainville and Bougainville Freedom Movement (BFM).

Since the conflict ended, a few additional groups and some individuals have become involved, particularly with the emergence of debate on the future of LSM. They have included ‘mediators’ offering services to the ABG, as well as some journalists, lawyers, advisers or consultants mainly seeking to advise or influence various Bougainvillean groups—especially Panguna lease landowner associations.

Since the ABG began developing its mining legislation in mid-2012, a concerted campaign against its mining policy has been mounted by a network of fourth estate actors whose central point appears to be Australian ‘activist’ academic, Kristian Lasslett. He is involved with the International State Crime Initiative, whose website includes material purporting to document the responsibility of Rio Tinto and BCL for the conflict and its impacts, and demanding that they be brought to account. This view is advanced in Lasslett’s own publications and in other publications in which he acknowledges a central role.

The main PNG node in this network is the Bismarck Ramu Group, which operates two blogs that feature stories about mining on Bougainville—‘PNGexposed’, which is intended to expose political corruption, and ‘Papua New Guinea Mine Watch’, which was established to campaign against environmental damage by the Ramu nickel mine in PNG’s Madang Province, but has since expanded its remit to other mining projects. Both blogs regularly publish strong attacks on the ABG, some under Lasslett’s name, but many anonymous, though very much in Lasslett’s style. According to Lasslett, the Bismarck Ramu Group is ‘one of Papua New Guinea’s unsung treasures, and their support over the years has been truly amazing’.

The Australian branch of the network includes Jubilee Australia, an NGO that has published two reports highly critical of the ABG’s mining policy and legislation. The research for its 2014 report was overseen by Lasslett, who has had close links with Jubilee since his student days. The two Bougainvilleans who undertook the research were close associates of Lasslett, and are known to share his views on BCL and Rio Tinto.

The Australian branch also includes a few MPs from the Greens and Labour parties. Greens Party senator Lee Rhiannon has spoken at the launches of the Jubilee reports, and has regularly asked questions of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Senate Estimates Hearings about alleged Australian Government influence on ABG mining policy. Antony Loewenstein, an Australian activist journalist and author, has written articles critical of ABG mining policy, and covers such issues in his book on ‘vulture capitalism’. Loewenstein acknowledges the support and assistance of Lasslett in his writings on Bougainville.

Finally, the Australian node includes the BFM, the last of the ‘support groups’ from the 1990s that still has a public voice. It regularly attacks the ABG on the PNG Mine Watch blog, as well as in other outlets such as ‘New Dawn on Bougainville’, in pieces by written by Vikki John. Lasslett acknowledges the ‘encouragement and guidance from activists and advocates involved in the Bougainville anti-war and independence movements’ that he received while doing his PhD research on ‘state-corporate decisions and motivations that underpinned the crimes on Bougainville’, including support from key BFM figures, Vikki John amongst them.

This ‘fourth estate’ network does have some links in Bougainvillean communities, but mainly with a few people who share the views of other network members. Curiously, Lasslett’s connections include a key personal staff member of Jimmy Miringtoro, one of Bougainville’s MPs in PNG’s national parliament, who, despite being a strident critic of the ABG’s mining policies, has his own interests in the selection of companies that might redevelop the Panguna mine.

All the members of this network advance strident claims about what they believe to be the general opposition to mining on the part of either the people of Bougainville in general, or of mine lease communities in particular. The evidence offered in support of these claims is weak or flawed. For example, the basis for Jubilee’s 2014 claims that ‘the mine affected communities’ are ‘opposed to any discussion of the mine’s reopening’ was a set of ‘semi-structured’ interviews with just 65 individuals selected by a ‘snowballing’ technique, plus a single focus group discussion with 17 males in a village just outside the mine lease area who ‘refused to be interviewed separately, instead stating that they preferred to reach a consensus … and then present one common position for each question’. In a situation where there are perhaps 15,000 people in former mine lease area communities, where it is well established that a large (but unknown) proportion support the resumption of mining, subject to strict conditions, the most likely explanation for the unanimous opposition reported from this supposed ‘sample’ is the so-called ‘snowballing’ technique adopted and supervised by persons who are themselves deeply opposed to resumption.

None of the members of this supposed ‘civil society’ network has ever communicated with the ABG or the landowner associations about the issues on which they so regularly make public comment. They do not countenance the possibility that, in considering resumption, the ABG and the landowner associations find themselves with very limited options as they seek realistic means of not only providing a secure basis for Bougainville’s autonomy or possible independence, but also creating new livelihoods for the former mine lease communities.

The sustained attacks by members of the network on President Momis, the ABG, advisers to the ABG and the Australian Government (for funding such advice) are based on the assumption, unsupported by credible evidence, of a strong consensus against the reopening of Panguna or any other form of LSM. They make such assumptions in the process of projecting their own theories, ideologies or needs onto Bougainville, convinced that they are finding or providing the supporting evidence. None has the motivation to understand the facts and the complexity of Bougainville, either in 2016 or in the period from 1987 to 1989.

Their activities have had little impact in Bougainville or on Bougainvilleans, other than providing support to groups seeking control over the region’s mineral resources in partnership with foreign investors other than Rio Tinto. Their analysis has, however, influenced the positions of some donor countries, and those of some international NGOs involved in Bougainville. In these ways, they contribute to tensions, divisions and conflicts of which they have little understanding.

‘Pressure Groups’ in Southwest Bougainville

The Mungkas leaders had close links with the Bana Pressure Group, the Siwai Pressure Group and similar, though less well organised, groups from the Buin area. Bana and Siwai were relatively densely populated areas, with intensive cultivation of cash crops and associated land shortages, close to the mine, and hence experiencing some of its impacts. Little has ever been written about these groups and their roles in the conflict. Francis Ona received strong support from them, both before and after the conflict started.

These groups were mostly led by older men. Some held land adjacent to the tailings lease, receiving little or no compensation despite the impacts, leading to particular resentment of BCL. They were also concerned about the broader problem of environmental degradation, the lack of employment and business opportunities with the mine, and the number of non-Bougainvilleans now settling on their land or running small businesses nearby. Pressure group leaders thought that independence was the most realistic way of getting a fairer deal from BCL. They rejected the earlier generation of ‘nationalist’ Bougainville leadership that had abandoned the secessionist cause in 1976. Their position was also a reaction to PNG’s failure to agree to 1981 NSPG proposals for changing the BCA.

As Bana Pressure Group chairman from mid-1988, James Singko expressed its position in ever more radical terms. From late 1988, he assisted Ona with funds raised from the sale of bananas and other crops from his plantation. He accompanied Ona into the bush in late 1988, bringing young men from his group, and soon becoming Ona’s deputy in the BRA. He is also regarded as being the strongest proponent of secession, and central to that cause being agreed as a core goal of the rebellion at a major meeting at Sipuru, in central Bougainville, in late February 1989. In later tensions with Ona over the direction of the rebellion, Singko claimed the right to negotiate with the PNG Government on the issue since he was the sponsor of that particular aspect of their agenda.

Mungkas Association

Although Ona was on the executive of this important Arawa-based organisation, its major focus was on the impacts of the influx into Bougainville of people from elsewhere in PNG and the limited mine-related opportunities for Bougainvilleans in general. The name, Mungkas Association, originated with Bougainvillean students at the University of PNG who met to discuss Bougainville’s political future in the late 1960s. Various manifestations subsequently emerged, in Port Moresby and other urban centres, as well as in Bougainville, to address specific problems. The Arawa Mungkas Association, set up in 1987, comprised representatives of communities from many parts of Bougainville then resident in mine-related urban areas. During 1988, its members held public meetings and demonstrations to express grievances about squatter settlements.

The minutes of an executive meeting in held in Arawa on 24 March 1988, with Ona and Serero in attendance, provide insights into their concerns and demands. Squatters from elsewhere in PNG were said to be committing crimes, taking over customary land, running small businesses and taking jobs and business opportunities that should have been reserved for Bougainvilleans. The NSPG administrator, Peter Tsiamalili, reported on the Operation Mekim Save taskforce that had just been set up to respond to such problems. He counselled moderation and collaboration with the NSPG.

Some members wanted ‘to take violent action now’, while others spoke of the need to save Bougainville from crime, or called for an end to the PNG plantation labour scheme, under which labourers were recruited from elsewhere in PNG, because ‘it is the vehicle of death’. As an indication of the broad but unfocused sympathy amongst Bougainvilleans for secession from PNG, the minutes record unanimous agreement on two points: ‘in view [of] all the suffering, misery and lose facing [sic] we have been made to bear’, to ‘put it in strongest terms to the Prov. [Provincial] and Nat. [National] Governments that North Solomons DEMANDS SUCCESSION [sic]’; but ‘if they object to this demand’, then the two governments must ‘act immediately to remove all unemployed squatters from the whole of North Solomons’, and the PNG Constitution must be amended to require employers to return workers to their place of origin at the end of their contracts. Furthermore:

This meeting strongly felt that our inclusion with PNG is a direct route to Bville neutralisation. This is starting. This plan is not because of BCL, but for our own safety and wellbeing.

Additional calls were made for BCL and the NSPG to remove outsiders; for 80 per cent of BCL employees to be Bougainvilleans; for BCL to terminate non-Bougainvillean contractors undertaking jobs that could be handled by Bougainvilleans; and for ‘all tradestores [to] be returned to landowners’. The minutes also record the presentation of a plan by ‘landowners’ (presumably the NPLA) that included ‘mine shutdown’, secession, and ‘BCL demanded to pay K10 billion for the damage’. However, it is most unlikely that permanent closure was envisaged here, or that the Mungkas executive would have supported such a proposal, for the minutes also advocated pressure on BCL to preference Bougainvillean employees and contractors.

The Lessons of Panguna

The construction, operation and closure of the Panguna copper mine on the island of Bougainville, in the period from 1967 to 1989, provides a clear illustration of the process of modernisation and its political repercussions. But, in this case, the illustration also served to inform the new model of stakeholder politics that was applied to the large-scale mining industry at a global scale.

The Panguna mine exemplified the technical innovations that were typical of the new generation of open-cut mining projects. However, because it was commissioned at the very start of the process of modernisation, no environmental conditions were attached to the licences granted by the Australian colonial administration, so the mine was designed to discharge its waste material directly into the Jaba River. The construction of this most modern mine was also accompanied by the construction of a modern mining town to accommodate the families of a workforce with multiple technical skills. Long-distance commuting was not yet thought to be an economic option for the employment of this type of workforce.

In the short period of time between self-government in 1973 and full independence from Australia in 1975, representatives of the new nation state renegotiated the Bougainville Copper Agreement that it inherited from the colonial administration and, in so doing, made PNG look like a very smart young Third World country. But the resulting increase in the national share of the incomes generated by the new mining project was just one aspect of a longer policy process that also established a set of rules to govern the distribution of these incomes between different groups of national stakeholders. These groups included national members of the mining workforce, the customary owners of land leased to the mining company and the people of Bougainville (or North Solomons) Province. Representatives of the national government and the mining company thought that this process had been completed by 1980.

The outbreak of the Bougainville rebellion in 1989 was the start of an entirely new policy process that was not confined by national borders. It was the first in a sequence of ‘bad events’ that eventually forced the captains of the global mining industry to articulate new standards of corporate social responsibility. But the lessons of the rebellion were not easy to learn, since it was not clear whether and how it might have been caused by the negligence of Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL). Some observers blamed the Australian colonial administration for approving the development of the mine without regard for what Bougainvilleans wanted. Others blamed the national government for failing to share enough of the benefits of the renegotiated mining agreement with the provincial government or local landowners. Since the first phase of the rebellion was organised by a local landowner association, much attention was paid to the grievances that its leaders held against the mine itself. Were they upset about the influx of outsiders taking jobs or doing business with the mine; about the damage being caused to their own land or physical environment; or about the inability of their own social institutions to cope with a rapid process of social, economic and environmental change?

The reason that these questions are so hard to answer, even with the benefit of hindsight, is that the rebellion was not a single ‘event’ with a discrete set of causes. It was a local and provincial political process with deep historical roots that continued to evolve for years after it had triggered a set of national and global policy responses within the mining sector. If all the local and provincial actors who were involved in this process at one time or another had shared a common set of interests and motivations, then the process would not have lasted for as long as it did.

So what lessons were to be drawn from the events that forced the closure of the mine if the allocation of responsibility or blame is still contestable? The first lesson was that a disaffected mine-affected community had the power to close down a large-scale mining project if government forces were too weak to stop this from happening. The second was that a mining company could not always rely on a Third World government to police and enforce the compensation and benefit-sharing agreements under which it operated. From which followed a third lesson, that mining companies operating in fragile or chaotic political environments had to develop new strategies to manage relationships between all three groups of stakeholders in the triangle.

There may have been a fourth lesson, but it was not quite so obvious to external observers. It could be drawn from the fact that Francis Ona, the rebel leader, emerged from the ranks of BCL’s own workforce. He and some of his fellow mineworkers were not only members of the landowner association that demanded huge amounts of monetary compensation from the company in 1988; they were also responsible for escalating acts of sabotage against the infrastructure of the mine that culminated in the outbreak of armed conflict at the end of that year. In this respect, the first phase of the rebellion was an ‘inside job’. In the second phase, the company was forced to close the mine because it could not guarantee the safety of its workforce; however, by that time, the rebellious landowners in the workforce were already on the other side of the fence. Nearly all of the workers who lost their jobs in 1989, including many Bougainvilleans, left Bougainville to look for work elsewhere. The rebellion did not serve their economic interests at all, but nor was it inspired by rational economic calculations on the part of the rebels, and that is one reason why the government and the company were unable to contain it. So the lesson would be that recruitment of more workers from a mine-affected community is not necessarily sufficient to compensate for the negative impact of a mining project on their society and their environment.

The Papua New Guinea-Indonesia Border and its Effect on Relations Between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia

In October 1986 the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea signed a Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation. Under the terms of this treaty the two countries agreed not to threaten or use force against one another and not to cooperate with others in hostile or unlawful acts against each other or allow their territory to be used by others for such purposes. Provision was made also for consultation and negotiation in the event of any dispute. The treaty was hailed by President Suharto as ‘another milestone in the history of both countries,’ while Papua New Guinea’s prime minister and foreign affairs secretary said it would give direction for the future and inspire confidence in Papua New Guinea and its regional neighbours (Niugini Nius 28 October 1986).

More sceptical opinion, however, observed that there was nothing in the new treaty which either had not been the subject of earlier and repeated verbal assurances, or was not already adequately provided for in the existing agreement on border administration. Some opposition politicians in Papua New Guinea went further, describing the treaty as ‘naive and misconstrued,’ ‘sinister,’ and ‘an exercise in hypocrisy’ (Post-Courier 29 October 1986; Times of Papua New Guinea 31 October– 6 November 1986).

In an attempt to throw some light on these conflicting viewpoints, and to promote a better understanding of the nature of relations between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, this paper looks at the problems that have arisen over the common border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and at the effects of these problems on relations between them.

The border

The land boundary between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea stretches for some 750 kilometres. In the south it passes through dry savannah and swampy rain forest before ascending into the precipitous limestone ridges of the rain-soaked Star Mountains. North of the Star Mountains it traverses the Sepik floodplain, another series of formidable limestone ridges and raging mountain streams, and a thickly forested swampy plain before rising again into the Bougainville Mountains, which ultimately fall, in a succession of limestone cliffs, into the sea at Wutung. The border itself is poorly defined. Until the 1980s there were only fourteen markers along the entire length of the border.

Except for parts of the border area roughly from the Fly River bulge to 100 kilometres north of it, the region is sparsely populated by people who are shifting cultivators with small groups of predominantly hunter-gatherers. In the north and south respectively taro and yam provide the main staples, and in the higher altitudes some depend on sweet potato; for the rest sago is the main staple, supplemented by hunting. As in other countries whose borders are the product of arbitrary decisions by past colonial regimes, language groups and traditional rights to land as well as relations of kin and of trade extend across the border. Indeed, border surveys during the 1960s established that the border ran right through the middle of at least one village and that several villages which had been administered by the Dutch were in fact in the Australian territory. As recently as 1980 a village included in Papua New Guinea’s National Census was found to be inside the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya [which in 2000 President Wahid renamed Papua]. The situation is made more complex for administering authorities by the tendency, amongst these shifting cultivators, for whole villages to shift, re-form and disappear over time.

The land border is defined by an Australian-Indonesian border agreement of 1973, and is the subject of an agreement between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea concerning administrative border arrangements. The latter was originally drawn up in 1973 (when Australia was the administering authority in Papua New Guinea, though the agreement was signed by Michael Somare as chief minister), and was renegotiated, with minor but significant amendments, in 1979 and 1984. The agreement contains provisions relating to definition of the border area, the establishment of a joint border committee and consultation and liaison arrangements, border crossings for traditional and customary purposes and by non-traditional inhabitants, customary border trade and the exercise of traditional rights to land and waters in the border area, border security, quarantine, navigation, exchange of information on major construction, major development of natural resources, environmental protection, and compensation for damages. There is, however, no provision for hot pursuit across the border, and Papua New Guinea has repeatedly resisted proposals for joint military patrolling of the border.

Border problems

Since earliest colonial times New Guinea’s borders have been an occasional source of friction between the neighbouring administrations. In recent years problems between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia over the border area have arisen from four sources.

Border crossers

In principle, one can distinguish four broad classes of border crossers. First, there are villagers from the border area who cross from time to time, as they have always crossed, to make sago, to hunt, or to visit kin. As mentioned above, provisions are specifically made for such traditional movement in the border agreement. Traditionally, such movement was two-way and sometimes, in response to drought or disputes, for example, was more or less permanent. Within comparatively recent times there has been continuous substantial movement across the border. During the Dutch period many Papua New Guinean villagers from the border area travelled across into what was then Dutch New Guinea, attracted by the superior facilities available, especially at centres such as Hollandia (now Jayapura), Mindiptanah, and Merauke. Lately, it seems, movement has tended to be in the opposite direction, though greater formality of border administration and the existence of different lingua franca has inhibited such movement. The IASER survey referred to above (footnote 1) has documented extensive cross-border ties for the people of Western Province: in the North Ok Tedi and Moian census divisions, for example, 47.8 and 30.3 per cent respectively of adults surveyed were born in Irian Jaya (Pula and Jackson 1984:35). In view of the frequency of movement in the past, the IASER report ventured the opinion that ‘a good proportion of these border crossers [i.e. those who crossed in Papua New Guinea in 1984] could have good claim to Papua New Guinea citizenship’ (ibid.:33). Much the same situation exists in Papua New Guinea’s northern Sandaun Province. In 1984 the Sandaun premier, Andrew Komboni, accused the Australian, Indonesian, and Papua New Guinean governments of ignoring the ‘family aspects’ of the situation created by border crossing: ‘The traditional ties amongst the border villages in the northern sector have not changed since the white man declared an invisible border line’, he said: ‘A good number of the current refugees … have run this way with the natural inclination to seek family refuge. It must be shocking … to see blood relatives being jailed or being held at camps’ (Post-Courier 12 April 1984). As the IASER report observed: ‘As time has passed and as the rule of national laws has reluctantly spread to the border area so people going about their business as they have done for centuries are slowly being made into law-breakers at worst or “problems” at best’ (ibid.:32).

Second, there has been a comparatively small number of Irianese nationalists seeking political asylum in Papua New Guinea. Some of them have been allowed to resettle in Papua New Guinea but increasingly in the 1980s those granted refugee status were passed on, with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), mostly with considerable difficulty, to third countries such as Sweden and Greece.
Third, from time to time, as a result of military activity in Irian Jaya, groups of Irianese villagers have crossed over into Papua New Guinea seeking temporary refuge often with kin or wantoks.

Fourth, the OPM [Organisasi Papua Merdeka, or Free Papua Movement] guerrillas operating in the border area have on occasion crossed over into Papua New Guinea seeking refuge from Indonesian military patrols; this, however, is a special class of border crosser and will be considered in more detail below.

Papua New Guinea policy on border crossers was established during the colonial period. As I described it some years ago:

People crossing the border are required to report to one of the several patrol posts along the border and state their reason for crossing. If their purpose is ‘traditional’ (the most common is sago making) they are normally allowed to stay until they have finished what they came to do and are then expected to return across the border. If they apply for political asylum they are held until a decision is taken and then either granted permissive residence or told to return. In all other cases they are told to return. If they refuse, they are arrested and charged as illegal immigrants, after which they may be deported. [May 1979:98-9]

The essential features of this policy have not changed since the 1960s, though in early 1984, in an apparent effort to discourage movement across the border, the Papua New Guinean government charged all adult male border crossers as illegal immigrants. In practice, as I noted in 1979, the stringency with which this policy has been applied has varied since 1962. However there is nothing to support the claim that while Papua New Guinea was a colony Australia kept the border pretty well sealed but that since 1975 administration of the border has been relatively lax. In fact a close look at the available evidence suggests that from about 1972, when the first Somare government came to office, Papua New Guinea has taken an increasingly hard line against border crossers in all of the above categories (ibid., also see May 1986).

With regard to numbers: before 1984 the best estimate of Irian-born residents in Papua New Guinea was around 2000 to 3000; many of these must have slipped across the border prior to 1962, and taken up residence in villages or towns, without acquiring formal residential status. Of this number, by 1986 217 had been granted citizenship in Papua New Guinea – 157 in 1976 and another 60 in 1977. No Irian-born person had been granted citizenship after 1977.

But while, ‘in principle’, border crossers may be classified in four categories, in practice, of course, border crossers are not always so easily distinguishable. Until 1984 the number of border crossers was sufficiently small that this was not a major problem. In 1984 this changed. Following an abortive local uprising by Irianese nationalists in Jayapura in February, and a subsequent military crackdown, hundreds and eventually thousands of Irianese began to pour across the border into Papua New Guinea. By 1986 there were between 10 000 and 12 000 border crossers in camps along the border, few of whom showed any inclination to return in the foreseeable future, and many of whom claimed traditional land rights. Most of these people were ‘refugees’ in the broad sense that they crossed the border to take refuge from conditions they found threatening. The Papua New Guinea government was reluctant to refer to them as refugees, however, because of what this implied with regard to the UN 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and preferred to see them as Indonesian citizens who would soon return to their own side of the border. In fact, the Papua New Guinea government has tried to persuade groups to return, and even forcibly repatriated some, in the face of ongoing domestic reaction. Border crossers themselves, especially those from the border area, were also reluctant to have themselves classified as refugees, for fear that they too might be sentenced to resettlement in Sweden.

The handling of the refugee problem during 1984-85 has been documented elsewhere. It is a story that does not reflect well on either Indonesia or Papua New Guinea, nor on regional neighbours who have shown no willingness to help resettle those who are eventually granted refugee status. Indonesia, having initially refused to acknowledge that an influx of border crossers had occurred, hampered efforts at repatriation by its reluctance to formally guarantee the safety of returnees, its refusal for some time to agree to UNHCR involvement in repatriation, and its insistence that Papua New Guinea provide a list of names of the border crossers. Indonesia’s foreign minister Mochtar subsequently made it quite clear that he had little interest in the return of the border crossers. In an interview with Peter Hastings (Sydney Morning Herald 16 August 1986) Mochtar is reported to have said: ‘The biggest problem of these Irianese … is … they want to go through life doing nothing at all. We don’t need people like that’. On the other hand it is clear that, having failed to force a large number of border crossers to return by withholding assistance, during 1984-85 the Papua New Guinea government made little effort to screen the refugee camp inmates with a view to sorting out ‘genuine refugees’ from potential returnees. The government of Paias Wingti, which came to office in Papua New Guinea in late 1985, elaborated a new policy on border crossers, which included greater UNHCR involvement, greater commitment to the screening of border crossers, and the possibility of some resettlement of refugees within Papua New Guinea.


Since the early 1960s groups of Irianese nationalist rebels have operated in the border area of Irian Jaya, in the name of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, and have occasionally crossed over into Papua New Guinea for ‘R & R’ (rest and recreation) or to escape Indonesian military patrols. There have also been isolated instances of OPM sympathisers within Papua New Guinea seeking to materially assist the OPM, but usually without effect. Two notable cases were a rather naive letter of 1981 seeking arms from the USSR, which was returned – and intercepted – because the address (‘Mr George, c/o Poste Restante, Turkey’) was insufficient, and an unsuccessful attempt in 1984 to obtain weapons through an Australian mercenary soldier.

Successive Papua New Guinea governments, however, have consistently reiterated their denial of Papua New Guinea soil to OPM rebels, and Papua New Guinean police and military and administrative personnel patrol the border area in an effort to discourage movement across the border in general and to deny the use of the border area to OPM guerrillas in particular. In 1983 and again in 1984 budgetary allocations for police and military border patrols were increased, and it was announced that an infantry company would be stationed at Kiunga. In addition several Irianese granted permissive residence in Papua New Guinea were deported for violating their promise, as a condition of their residence in Papua New Guinea, not to engage in political activity relative to their nationalist sentiments. Indeed since the late 1970s the Papua New Guinea government’s actions against OPM supporters have brought retaliatory threats from the OPM. For example, in 1984, in protest against planned repatriation of border crossers, specific threats were made against the Ok Tedi mining project and against individual Papua New Guinean politicians and bureaucrats, and in 1985 government officers were pulled out of refugee camps in the Western Province following threats from the OPM’s regional commander, Gerardus Thomy.

Notwithstanding this, Papua New Guinea has been accused of not devoting adequate resources to the task of ‘sanitising’ the border. Whether or not Papua New Guinea should spend more on border patrolling depends on judgements about priorities. Personally, given the nature of the terrain and the small number of OPM guerrillas involved, I see little reason why a country whose main concerns are with the economic and social development of its people should divert scarce resources away from development in an attempt to deal with a problem of internal security that a large, militaristic neighbour has been unable to resolve – especially when that neighbour has in turn denied that there is conflict in Irian Jaya, told Papua New Guinea that affairs in Irian Jaya are none of its business, and denied the existence of the OPM itself. But whatever one feels on this issue, it is simply not accurate to accuse Papua New Guinea, as some have, of not taking firm action against the OPM.

Border violations

Although it has occasionally been proposed by Indonesia, Papua New Guinea has stopped short of the sort of border agreement that Indonesia has with Malaysia, which allows ‘hot pursuit’ across the border, and on a number of occasions Papua New Guinea has indicated its unwillingness to enter into joint military patrols along the border. On several occasions since the late 1960s, however, Indonesian troops or aircraft have crossed the border, intentionally or unintentionally. In mid 1982, for example, Indonesian military patrols crossed into Papua New Guinea on seven occasions, despite Papua New Guinea protests, and a helicopter flying the regional military commander to Wamena, 240 kilometres southwest of Jayapura, landed ‘off course’ at a mission station 10 kilometres southeast. In March 1984, two Indonesian aircraft appear to have violated Papua New Guinea’s air space over the Green River station, and the following month there were three border violations, during one of which Indonesian troops destroyed houses and gardens in a hamlet on the Papua New Guinea side of the border.

Such incursions are perhaps inevitable given the nature of the terrain, the poor demarcation of the border, and the circumstances of a guerilla campaign. But such ‘incidents’ have been magnified rather than minimised by the refusal of the Indonesian government, or the inability of its civil and military elements, to deal credibly with Papua New Guinea’s diplomatic protests or requests for explanation. In the instance of the 1982 border violations, for example, the Indonesian government denied that the incursion had occurred, saying that some Indonesian hostages taken in an OPM raid had been recovered from the Papua New Guinea side of the border by Irianese villagers, and accusing Papua New Guinea of not honouring its obligations under the border agreement; in fact, the hostages – who had been held on the Indonesian side of the border – were subsequently released to Irianese villagers, who escorted them across to Papua New Guinea for repatriation. In the case of the 1984 air violations the Indonesian ambassador in Papua New Guinea initially denied that the planes were Indonesian (despite the fact that the Antara News Agency had already reported an exercise by the Indonesian air force in the vicinity of Jayapura); and though the possibility of an unintentional incursion appears to have been admitted privately in Jakarta (Far Eastern Economic Review 12 August 1984; Niugini Nius 30 March 1984) a belated official response to Papua New Guinea’s diplomatic protests again denied that an incursion had taken place. And with respect to the military incursions of mid-1984 (which occurred during military exercises in the border area, of which – despite earlier Indonesian assurances – Papua New Guinea had not been informed), in the face of all evidence Armed Forces Commander Benny Murdani denied the violation, suggesting that perhaps the offenders were OPM guerillas in Indonesian army uniforms. About the same time the governor of Irian Jaya was reported as saying, ‘There have never been any clashes between the Indonesian defence forces and the OPM rebels. There have been no clashes, never’ (Times of Papua New Guinea 31 May 1984).

Such response to legitimate concerns of the Papua New Guinea government have created tensions in the relations between the two countries which might easily have been avoided by a more honest response. In mid-1984, Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister stated that while Papua New Guinea did not want to interfere in Indonesia’s internal affairs the border crossers were not simply an internal affair. Since they had a direct effect on Papua New Guinea, the means by which lrian Jaya was governed and developed was of immediate interest to Papua New Guinea (Times of Papua New Guinea 24 May 1984; Post-Courier 24 July 1984). In late 1984, frustrated and ‘bloody angry’, the Papua New Guinea foreign minister expressed his dissatisfaction with the border situation in a speech to the UN General Assembly. The Indonesian ambassador in Washington, it was reported, was ‘painfully surprised’.

Border development

Except perhaps at its northern extremity, the border area is poorly endowed and poorly developed. On the Papua New Guinea side, apart from the fortuitously placed Ok Tedi mine, what development there has been – a little basic infrastructure (schools, aid posts, minor roads) – is largely the result of the attention the border area has received during periods of OPM-Indonesian military confrontation. Agricultural development has been inhibited by the government’s policy on quarantine. A modest border programme was included in Papua New Guinea’s 1980-83 National Public Expenditure Plan, but the allocation for border development was cut in 1983 as a consequence of declining revenue from domestic sources and Australian aid.

On the Irian Jaya side, the construction of the trans-Irian Jaya highway and the transmigration programme are seen as major contributions to development, and there have been announcements of plans to improve communications in the border area (including, according to one report, colour TV sets) in the hopes of persuading Irianese border dwellers to stay on their side of the border. More recently it has been reported that under a three-year plan for development in the border area, commencing in 1986, Indonesia will spend about $US66 million on highway construction, airstrips, health and education services, industrial and agricultural developments, and the establishment of trading centres to improve living conditions in the border area. A further $US2 million is to be spent on border security, including an army base.

From time to time joint border development has been proposed as the solution to problems of Irianese separatism and of border crossers. Indeed in 1983, before thousands of Irianese began flooding over the border into Papua New Guinea, Peter Hastings observed that Papua New Guineans from the Vanimo area were visiting Jayapura and suggested that greater development efforts on the Irian Jaya side could soon produce a situation where the predominant flow of border crossers was from Papua New Guinea to Irian Jaya (Sydney Morning Herald 2 May 1983). In fact, however, border development programmes on the Papua New Guinea side, and it seems on the Irian Jaya side, have not made much progress, and since 1984 the Papua New Guinea government has been more concerned with sustaining (and eventually getting rid of) border crossers than with providing the improved conditions along the border that might attract more crossers. In the longer term there is some concern in Papua New Guinea that if large-scale transmigration to Irian Jaya takes place, and unless it proves more successful than it has to date in Irian Jaya, the resultant tensions could aggravate the problems of border crossing.

Relations between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

In the 1980s there was some discussion of the broad defence and security aspects of Indonesia-Papua New Guinea relations. The informed consensus seemed to be that Indonesia does not have expansionist ambitions towards Papua New Guinea (past expansionist ventures being the product of particular historical circumstances that cannot be projected onto the Papua New Guinea case), but that there might be other imaginable circumstances that would worry Indonesia and perhaps lead to intervention in one form or another, specifically the emergence of a hostile (communist-sympathetic) regime in Papua New Guinea or some kind of breakdown in Papua New Guinea’s political system, perhaps caused by regional dissidence.

I have no fundamental quarrel with this analysis, except perhaps a logical quibble about the ‘particular-historical-circumstances’ argument: granted that the particular historical circumstances of Indonesia’s original claim to West Papua, of konfrontasi over Malaysia, and of East Timor do not apply to independent Papua New Guinea, can Papua New Guineans be blamed for sometimes wondering whether another set of particular circumstances, domestic and/or external, might be seen by Indonesia as justifying another expansionist venture? It is in this context (and perhaps also in view of recurring Indonesian claims that it has acted with ‘restraint’) that some of us find the discussion of possible Indonesian ‘intervention’ in the event of a ‘hostile’ or ‘unstable’ regime in Papua New Guinea disquieting. I hope we may assume that those who present such scenarios agree that the emergence of an ‘unstable’ regime (whatever that means) in Papua New Guinea, or even one hostile to Indonesia, would provide no justification for Indonesian intervention. Having said that, I suggest that the more immediate concerns in Indonesia-Papua New Guinea relations have to do not with possible invasion or intervention but with the problems arising over administration of the common border. Administration of the border takes place within the framework of the border agreement and in the context of a mutual commitment to good relations. Since 1981 there have been annual Joint Border Committee meetings, irregular meetings of a Border Liaison Committee, and a number of meetings of technical subcommittees.

In fact, however, relations between the two governments over the border have been marked by short cycles of tension followed by self-conscious cordiality. When ‘incidents’ have occurred, the machinery of border liaison has generally proved ineffective. For example, when in 1983 it was discovered that Indonesia’s trans-lrian Jaya highway crossed into Papua New Guinea at three points, it took more than three months to secure an acknowledgement that the incursion had taken place and 16 months before the offending sections of road were closed off. (Incidentally, the incursion might have been established several months earlier had Indonesia not withdrawn from a joint survey exercise, because of inadequate funds.) Again, in February 1984, with refugees flooding across the border, Indonesian officials told the Papua New Guinea foreign minister that they knew nothing of reported events and assured him that things in Jayapura were ‘normal’, even though residents on the Papua New Guinea side of the border confirmed that Jayapura was in darkness and its government radio station silent. At this time there had not been a border liaison meeting for over a year – allegedly because of lack of funds – and the Vanimo-Jayapura ‘hot-line’ had been out of service for several months. And when in April 1984 Papua New Guinea sought a meeting of the Joint Border Committee to attempt to achieve some resolution of the situation, its foreign secretary found himself sitting down with a local bupati who was apparently uninformed on the subject of the border crossings and had no authority to make decisions. A scheduled meeting the following month was cancelled at short notice when the Irian Jaya governor withdrew from the Indonesian delegation due to ‘over commitment’. This sort of situation, combined with evasive responses to Papua New Guinea’s protests over border violations as described above, did much to generate the strains that characterised Indonesia-Papua New Guinea relations throughout most of 1984-85.

There has been a tendency amongst distant commentators on Indonesia-Papua New Guinea relations to refer to the problems, and to urge greater ‘understanding’, as though the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea relationship is symmetrical. Obviously it is not: border crossing has been essentially one way; border violations have been entirely at Papua New Guinea’s expense; Papua New Guinea does not have a domestic insurgency problem overflowing its border; it has been Papua New Guinea rather than Indonesia that has had to seek explanations for external disturbances, and responsibility for the frequent ineffectiveness of liaison machinery has been largely on the Indonesian side. Moreover, the huge disparities in size and military capacity between the two countries create an obvious imbalance in the relations between them. One might be excused for wondering too, when Indonesia’s foreign minister defends transmigrasi on the grounds that Indonesia does not intend to preserve Irian Jaya as ‘a human zoo’, if there are not also imbalances in cultural attitudes. Any sensible discussion of possible improvements in Indonesia-Papua New Guinean relations must begin by recognising this imbalance.


In view of this analysis, it is difficult to see what the Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation can hope to achieve that could not be achieved just as easily without it. It is, as one Papua New Guinean described it, ‘bilas tasol’ (‘just ornament’). At the most, it might give an assurance of goodwill on both sides that will help ease the tensions that emerged during 1984-85. Ultimately, however, relations between the two countries are likely to be determined less by the rhetoric of diplomats than by the day-to-day problems of administering a border that divides an independent Melanesian nation from an Indonesian province in which a Melanesian liberation movement remains active after some two decades of Indonesian rule. In this context it is perhaps worth noting that in the same week as the much-heralded Treaty of Mutual Respect, Friendship and Cooperation was signed, a Joint Border Committee meeting in Bandung broke up after four days, having failed to reach agreement on proposals for joint search-and-rescue operation in the border area.

The Bougainville Crisis

The Bougainville mine, in Papua New Guinea’s North Solomons (formerly Bougainville) Province, is one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines. In recent years it has accounted for around 40 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s exports and between 17 and 20 per cent of government revenue. Ever since mining exploration began on Bougainville in the 1960s, however, the presence of the mining company has been a source of resentment amongst the local people in the Panguna area, as well as for many Bougainvilleans not directly affected by the mining operations. Opposition to mining development was a major factor in the emergence of a secessionist movement on Bougainville in the late 1960s. Melanesian people have a deep attachment to their land and, notwithstanding a complex structure of compensation payments, many Bougainvilleans feel that the development of the mine has robbed them of their land, irrevocably changed their way of life, and left them with little of the wealth they believed the mine would bring. As a prominent member of the Panguna landowner group said in 1989: ‘Land is marriage – land is history – land is everything. If our land is ruined our life is finished’ (Perpetua Serero, quoted in Post-Courier 1 May 1989).

Towards the end of 1988 the longstanding antipathy of landowners towards the mining company, Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL), erupted into violence. A group of militant landowners took to the bush and began a campaign of sabotage and harassment of mine employees. In December the mine was forced to close, briefly, and subsequently a curfew was imposed in the main towns and the mine area in an attempt to contain the conflict.

In March 1989 riots broke out in the town of Arawa after a Bougainvillean woman was killed by migrant workers from the Papua New Guinea mainland and two mainlanders were killed in retaliation. Although these incidents were not directly related to the dispute between landowners and BCL they revived separatist sentiments on Bougainville and strengthened popular support for the militant landowners. There was considerable tension on the island following these riots and Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) personnel were brought in to support the already augmented police forces in maintaining law and order while representatives of the national and provincial governments attempted to negotiate with the militants. Shortly after, an army patrol which had arrested several dissidents was ambushed and two soldiers and two villagers were killed. It was subsequently reported that security forces had launched a ‘full-scale military operation’ against the rebels.

On 12 April 1989, Niugini Nius, one of Papua New Guinea’s two daily newspapers, published an undated letter from the leader of the militant landowner group, former BCL employee Francis Ona. In it he set out the revised demands of the militant group, which included compensation of Kina 10 billion (about $US12 billion) for environmental and other damage caused by BCL’s operations (BCL claims that this is more than double the total revenue generated by the company since mining commenced in 1967), 50 per cent of all profits, and the withdrawal of security forces. The letter went on to state: ‘We are not part of your country any more … We belong to the Republic of Bougainville and we are defending our island from foreign exploitation.’

Despite a substantial police and military presence, continued guerilla activities against mine installations and employees forced the closure of the mine in May 1989, and it remained closed throughout the year. With the security situation largely unchanged, in January 1990 the mine was placed on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis and the company began to evacuate its employees from Bougainville. Although the national and provincial governments and representatives of the landowners agreed on a ‘peace package’, which promised increased compensation and development funds to both landowners and the provincial government, the militant landowner group rejected the terms of the government’s offer and maintained an effective guerilla campaign against the mine and in defiance of the government security forces.

In March 1990 a ceasefire was negotiated and the national government began a withdrawal of its security forces. The government also promised a further transfer of powers to the provincial government.

The basis of landowner demands

When, in 1964, Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA) began mineral exploration in the area of the Bougainville mine, it met with resistance from landowners, some of whom were arrested for damaging CRA property. There was also resistance to the forced appropriation of village land for the development of port facilities for the mine. However, with the promise of compensation, assurances that the mine would bring benefits to the people, and threats that the government would act against troublemakers, most of the villagers became, in the words of the CRA consultant anthropologist, Douglas Oliver, ‘resigned more or less disconsolately to what they regard as another example of the white man’s cupidity, deceit and irresistible power’ (Oliver 1973:162).

In the early stages of mining exploration and development, compensation was paid to landowners under a series of ad hoc arrangements and provisions of the amended Papua New Guinea Mining Ordinance. Between mid-1966 and the end of 1969 some 350 claims for compensation were heard by mining warden’s courts and a schedule of compensation payments was drawn up. Following the company’s decision to go ahead with the mine development, separate leases were negotiated to cover access roads, the mine area, and an area for mine waste (tailings) disposal. The leases were granted despite a legal challenge by villages in the mining area which was disallowed in the High Court of Australia. In response to a demand for royalties, the Bougainville Agreement of 1967 between BCL and the Papua New Guinea administration provided for payment of 1.25 per cent of the value of exports, of which five per cent was to be distributed amongst landowners and 95 per cent paid to the government (initially the national government but after 1974 the provincial government).

The construction of the mine and the mine access road produced a new spate of claims for compensation. Bedford and Mamak estimated that between 1968 and 1974 some 2654 compensation payments were made to Bougainvilleans, amounting to $A1.6 million (Bedford and Mamak 1977). The system of compensation payments which developed in the years from 1968 was, however, extremely complex and highly contentious. Most of the payments, moreover, were quite small and in many cases were once-off payments. Their distribution amongst communities, and within communities (most payments being made to a head of family) amongst individuals, was very uneven.

In 1979, a Panguna Landowners Association (PLA) was formed amongst customary landowners in the roads, mine and tailings lease areas, primarily to press for a review of the compensation arrangements. Following a confrontation between landowners and BCL, which resulted in a minor riot and the looting of the Panguna supermarket, an agreement was drawn up in 1980 which incorporated all existing compensation payments, introduced some new forms of compensation and a price indexing formula for recurring payments, and established a Road Mine Tailings Lease Trust Fund (RMTLTF) into which portions of certain payments were to be made. The intention of the new agreement was to consolidate the various forms of compensation that had developed, discourage new claims, and achieve a greater degree of equity in the distribution of payments.

The 1980 agreement, however, did not resolve longstanding dissatisfaction with the level and direction of compensation payments. Moreover, it created another problem. The RMTLTF was created as a fund into which certain payments would be directed with a view to establishing capital for income-generating investments and other benefits for landowners in the lease areas. It comprised 75 landowner representatives and was administered by an eight-person executive committee. Initially, with a capital of Kina 1.3 million, the fund appears to have run harmoniously, investing in interest-bearing deposits and making loans to its members. There was, however, a substantial write off of bad debts in these early years and when in 1983 the chairmanship of the RMTLTF changed, a non-Bougainvillean manager was appointed and a stricter financial regime was instituted. Fewer loans were made to members and funds were mainly invested in local businesses, real estate and plantations. But, while the RMTLTF’s assets and income increased under this new regime, members themselves received less and soon began to complain that the executive was not using RMTLTF funds for the benefit of the landowners; executive members were accused of mismanaging the fund and taking the money for their own purposes.

This disagreement within the landowner group reflected in part a growing split between an ‘old guard’ and the younger generation of people who not only resented the presence of BCL but also believed that the older generation had largely acquiesced in BCL’s takeover of their land and had diverted what compensation had been received to their own ends. Some, like Francis Ona, had indeed received little from the compensation payments.

It was in this context that a challenge to the leadership of the PLA took place in 1988 and a new phase of landowner militancy began. But the divisions within the landowner group also help explain the difficulties which the government faced in attempting to negotiate a settlement, and the tensions which became apparent amongst villages in the mine area. (One of the first victims in the armed conflict was a prominent PLA executive member, Mathew Kove, who is believed to have been murdered by his nephew. Other landowners who supported a settlement with the government in 1989 were attacked by the militant landowner group.)

Thus, in a pattern not unfamiliar to students of Melanesian politics, what appears at first to be a straightforward case of a landowner group seeking increased compensation from a mining company turns out to be a multi-layered mass of shifting elements whose motivations range from a broad Bougainville nationalism to internal family fighting.

The move from protest to insurgency

As early as March 1988 a delegation of some 500 landowners, organised by the militant faction of the PLA, marched on BCL with a petition of demands. Not satisfied with the company’s response the group organised a number of protests including a sit-in at the mine which caused production to stop for several hours. Explosives were stolen from the BCL magazine in April 1988, and proposed action to shut down the mine was narrowly averted late in 1988 following a visit by the national minerals and energy minister.

But things came to a head in November at a public meeting organised to discuss a consultants’ report on alleged pollution from the mine. When the report refuted claims by villagers that mine pollution was responsible for the death of fish and the dis-appearance of flying foxes (popular as food), Ona and others stormed out. A few days later armed men held up the BCL magazine and took a large quantity of explosives. In the following weeks mine installations were subjected to a series of arson and sabotage attacks: power pylons were blown up, a repeater station was damaged, and there was a fire at one of the company’s maintenance depots. Workers repairing lines were threatened by armed men. Early observers expressed some surprise at the professionalism of the saboteurs; it was later revealed that one of Ona’s fellow militants was a former PNGDF officer and explosives expert, Sam Kauona (a Bougainvillean, but not from the immediate mine area).

In the early phase of confrontation there appears to have been a good deal of sympathy towards Ona and the militant landowner group. The premier of the North Solomons, Joseph Kabui, himself from the tailings lease area, said in February 1989: ‘The people see Ona as some kind of folk hero and champion of the Panguna land rights cause’ (Times of Papua New Guinea 2-8 February 1989). Kabui later declared: ‘I also support what he was fighting for, but not his terrorist methods’ (Post-Courier 20 February 1989). However, as the conflict escalated, as additional police and later PNGDF reinforcements arrived, and as the inevitable toll in human lives and the destruction of houses and property increased, the extent of support for Ona seems to have become more problematic. Moreover, it became increasingly less clear who ‘the militants’ were. Reports suggest that by about March 1989 there were at least three elements: the original militant faction of the PLA together with a number of sympathetic (mostly younger) villagers in the mine area; members of the anti-government, cultic movement, the ‘Fifty Toea Association’, led by Damien Damen, from the Kongara area south of the mine, with whom the militants took refuge; and so-called raskol elements, gangs of petty criminals, concentrated in south Bougainville, who were ready to take advantage of the general disruption caused by the conflict. Estimates of the number of people involved have ranged from a ‘hardcore’ of 75 to around 1000 (effectively, the adult population of villages in the lease area). Early in 1989 the hardcore militants began referring to themselves as the ‘Bougainville Revolutionary Army’ (BRA). As with many Melanesian organisations, the BRA appears to have no formal structure, but its actions against the security forces and the mine – and specifically its ability to successfully resist the PNGDF for over 12 months – suggest that it has been unusually well organised.

Initially the demands of the militant landowner group had to do with compensation – though, as noted, their figure of K10 billion was unrealistic, and the demand for 50 per cent of profits, retrospectively, scarcely less so. Failing in this, they called for the closure of the mine, and adopted terrorist activities to secure their objective. At least as early as February 1989, Ona was calling for secession and in April he claimed to speak for an independent Bougainville Republic and demanded the withdrawal of troops from ‘our country’. Although the Papua New Guinea government persisted in attempts to negotiate a settlement with the landowners, as the military confrontation escalated Ona must have realised that he was on a one-way track; in response to calls to surrender he replied that he would only surrender ‘in a coffin’. In June, the national government declared a state of emergency in the North Solomons, and in September a leaked cabinet document was published, which said: ‘Cabinet is now firmly of the view that a state of insurgency exists’ (Niugini Nius 22 September 1989).

Moreover, as so frequently happens in such situations, the security forces, brought in to restore law and order, soon became a major part of the problem. As early as April 1989 some 50 police had been sent from Bougainville for various breaches of discipline. There were reports of villages being burned and innocent villagers being harassed. The provincial premier, who had already been assaulted by militants, was beaten up by security force personnel, and the deputy premier was partially blinded after being poked in the eye with a rifle barrel. A subsequent Amnesty International report confirmed claims of human rights violations and police and army brutality. More recently it has been alleged that in February 1990 several suspected militants, including a Uniting Church pastor, were murdered by security forces and their bodies dropped into the sea from a helicopter (Sydney Morning Herald 8 March 1990). Such reports have shocked Papua New Guineans and longtime observers of Papua New Guinea, and have undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the police and the PNGDF. They also raise questions about the extent of government control over the security forces. More specifically, the actions of the security forces served to strengthen secessionist sentiments on Bougainville and reinforce demands for the removal of the security forces from the island.

The issue of secession

The development of the Bougainville mine coincided with the emergence in Papua New Guinea both of a pro-independence nationalism and of a number of regionally based ‘micro-nationalist’ movements. On Bougainville, a broad sense of ethnic separateness, which drew on a clear difference in physical appearance between Bougainvilleans and mainlander ‘red skins’ and a feeling that Bougainville had been neglected by the administration, encouraged the growth of such movements from as early as the 1950s. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, subnationalist sentiments became more widely and more firmly established in Bougainville and there were frequent calls, if not for secession and independence, at least for autonomy. The development of the Bougainville mine was not the sole cause of this subnationalist movement but the activities of the mining company and the administration, particularly in relation to land acquisition, and the broader social impact of the mine development, most obviously the huge influx of non-Bougainvillean people, were inextricably tied up with it.

In 1972, a Bougainville Special Political Committee (BSPC) was created, representative of local government councils, sub-nationalist movements and others in the (then) Bougainville District, to consider Bougainville’s future political status. The BSPC subsequently made a submission to the Constitutional Planning Committee, calling for the establishment of a Bougainville District Government. When the national government rejected these demands there was talk of secession and thinly veiled threats were made about closure of the mine (Mamak and Bedford 1974). The Constitutional Planning Committee subsequently recommended the establishment of an interim district government on Bougainville and in 1974 this was done. When, the following year, the national parliament acting as a constituent assembly resolved to omit the provincial government provisions from the constitution, Bougainville’s political leaders unilaterally declared the independence of the Republic of the North Solomons. Bougainville member of the House of Assembly, John Momis (currently national minister for provincial affairs), travelled to New York to press Bougainville’s claim to independence before the United Nations Trusteeship Council. Under pressure, the national government resumed negotiations, the interim provincial government was reinstated, and an agreement was signed with Bougainville’s leaders in 1976 which provided the basis for an Organic Law on Provincial Government under which a nationwide system of provincial government was established.

With the introduction of provincial government, and following the renegotiation of the Bougainville Copper Agreement in 1974, Bougainville subnationalism appeared to have declined, though a widespread feeling of separateness remained, along with general antipathy towards BCL, and pockets of active secessionist sentiment.

Thus, in early 1989 when Francis Ona challenged the authority of the national government and spoke out for Bougainville independence, he struck a sympathetic chord amongst many Bougainvilleans. In April, a meeting of provincial assembly members and community leaders discussed the situation in the province and reports suggested that the mood of the meeting was in favour of secession. Subsequently a committee of the provincial assembly, headed by John Bika, prepared a report on the Bougainville situation. It did not support secession but called for full provincial autonomy in all areas except defence, currency and foreign affairs. (Six weeks later, on the eve of the signing of an agreement between the national and provincial governments and landowner representatives, Bika was murdered by militant landowners.)

The significance of recent developments on Bougainville

Until 1988 the North Solomons Province was, as well as the richest, one of the more orderly and peaceful provinces in a country beset by problems of law and order. Its slide into militant advocacy, insurgency, and now a virtual abdication of governmental authority, raises serious questions about the capacity of the national government, and specifically about its control over the country’s security forces.

One of the effects of the unrest which developed in 1988-89 was a massive migration of non-Bougainvilleans from the mine area and from plantations and towns across the province. With this, and especially following the deaths of police and army personnel in encounters with the BRA, has come a good deal of antipathy towards Bougainvilleans in other parts of the country. Many Bougainvilleans, fearing retribution, have left jobs on the mainland, and even in places such as the two university campuses in Port Moresby and Lae, Bougainvilleans have been subjected to abuse, notwithstanding a good deal of early sympathy for the landowners’ demands against BCL. Within the North Solomons, too, tensions have arisen amongst Bougainvilleans which will not quickly disappear. Families have been divided over the issue of compensation and the tactics of the BRA, provincial leaders have been killed and beaten, and some Bougainvilleans who have lost homes and property blame the militants for resorting to violence.

More particularly, the behaviour of the security forces has not only tarnished the (already questionable) reputation of police and the military but has seriously damaged relations between the national government and the people of the province. The withdrawal of the security forces and the granting of increased autonomy to the provincial government may have done something to prevent a further deterioration in national-provincial relations, but it has done little if anything for the general law and order situation on the island and appears to leave the provincial government a hostage to the BRA (or perhaps a faction of the BRA, since Kauona seems to have replaced Ona as spokesman for the militants).

Economically, the closure of the mine and the exodus of non-Bougainvilleans has had a devastating effect on business and the plantation economy within the province. Nationally, the impact of the mine’s closure was cushioned by the existence of gold and copper reserves and of a Mineral Resources Stabilisation Fund. But, by late 1989, the economic effects of the conflict had become apparent, in part through an across-the-board cut of 25 per cent in national government expenditures. Optimists point to other major resource projects about to come on-stream in Papua New Guinea, but the effects of the militant landowners’ campaign have not been lost in other parts of the country. Already there have been renewed demands by landowners in the area of the Ok Tedi mine, and forewarnings from the premier of Enga, where a major gold and copper prospect at Porgera is currently under development, that if Engans do not receive a satisfactory settlement they too can bring a prospective mine to a standstill. This in turn must have negative effects on potential foreign investors.

Politically, the Namaliu government wisely persisted with a strategy of negotiation with landowners and the provincial gov-ernment, while attempting – with little success, it seems – to keep the military on a tight rein. But others around the prime minister have been inclined to show less patience, and the failure of the government quickly to resolve the issue has done little to build confidence in a coalition government which already looked shaky.

In 1990 there was some optimism about the prospects for maintaining the ceasefire and reopening the mine. But even if this were achieved, there will be scars from the conflict, nationally and provincially. In retrospect the events of 1988-90 may well appear as something of a watershed in Papua New Guinea’s political history.

National Parliament of Papua New Guinea

National Parliament of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a single chamber legislature (law-making body) consisting of 89 Members elected from Open electorates and 22 Governors elected from Provincial electorates. The total 111 Members are directly voted into office by citizens over 18 years of age and represent Papua New Guinea provinces and districts.  After an election, the political party with the most seats is invited by the Governor General to form Government. Since Independence all Governments have been formed by a coalition of Parties because no Party has won enough Seats to form Government alone. The National Constitution gives the legislative (law-making) power of the people to Parliament. The PNG Constitution also declares that the maximum term of a Parliament is five years.

The National Parliament was first created in 1964 as the House of Assembly of Papua and New Guinea and became the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea in 1975 when Independence was granted. The House of Assembly building was located in downtown Port Moresby and had previously been used as a hospital. The new Parliament building was officially opened by His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, on 8th August 1984. The old House of Assembly building has been demolished and a Political History museum/library is being built as part of the redevelopment of the site.

Parliament House

Parliament House is an iconic building in Papua New Guinea and a building that PNGans can all be very proud of. It is open to the public on week days (except for public holidays) and Parliamentary staff are available to do guided tours for groups of visitors. If you live in Port Moresby or are a visitor to Port Moresby make sure that you visit our Parliament – it is certainly worth the effort.

National Parliament Official Website:

Electoral Systems in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) used an optional preferential voting system in elections held in 1964, 1968 and 1972, but then switched to a first-past-the-post system in 1975. The number of candidates contesting elections subsequently increased at every election, reaching an average of 27 per constituency at the 2002 polls. Numbers of victors obtaining more than 50 per cent of the vote declined, with the majority of MPs being elected on the basis of less than 20 per cent of the vote in 1992, 1997 and 2002. National elections became vehicles for the articulation of clan rivalries, particularly in the Highlands. Parties proved, at most, loose associations, which politicians were readily willing to ditch in pursuit of ministerial portfolios. Customary ‘big men’ competed for wealth, influence and authority through electoral processes, driven by pecuniary rewards attached to state office-holding. Whether or not they joined nominal political parties, victors’ positions remained highly precarious. More than half of all MPs lost their seats at most elections after independence, with incumbent turnover reaching an all time high of 75 per cent at the 2002 polls.

Inside Parliament, politicians frequently steer clear of political parties, or form fleeting party attachments that play second fiddle to personal advancement. No single party has ever obtained an absolute majority in Parliament. PNG had 10 governments from 1975 to 2002, three of which were dislodged by votes of no confidence. Governments are frequently formed by backroom cabals (‘lock-ups’), which proceed to divide among themselves the spoils of office. MPs on the Opposition benches thus have every incentive to, and little institutional inhibition against, plot the next no confidence bid. Many prefer to sit on the ‘middle benches’, in a twilight position between government and opposition, hoping to secure ministerial portfolios at the next reshuffle. Instead of yielding the frequently anticipated advantage of strong and stable government (due to seat swings that enhance or magnify narrower vote swings), the first-past-the-post system provides the backdrop for a highly volatile parliamentary set-up, in which unscrupulous and opportunistic ‘rubber band’ or ‘yoyo’ politicians prove willing to repeatedly switch allegiances for personal or constituency gain.

As a result, Papua New Guinean reformists have taken steps to strengthen the party system. The OLIPPC was enacted in 2002 and was aimed at strengthening political parties via controls over funding and restrictions on party-hopping. Those who contest elections as members of parties receive state financial support. Independents do not. Once a vote has been held for a prime minister, MPs are obliged to follow the party line on budgetary and constitutional votes, and in votes of no confidence. Cases involving MPs who cross the floor or fail to follow the party whip on these issues are heard by an Ombudsman Commission and, if necessary, are referred to a Leadership Tribunal, with the ultimate sanction being the forfeit of seats. New rules are aimed at restricting post-election horse-trading, by giving the party with the largest number of seats the first opportunity to form a government. One consequence, witnessed at the 2002 polls, was a sizeable increase in the official number of political parties, which rose from 12 in 1997 to 43 in 2002, although many of these existed only on paper and failed to obtain a single MP. The rules have proved difficult to implement, and, as in India after the introduction of similar legislation in 1985, much party side-switching continues, either illegally or (where this is sanctioned collectively by a party) legally.

A limited preferential voting system (LPV) was also introduced in PNG, and came into effect in the wake of the 2002 general elections. It was aimed chiefly at avoiding the proliferation of MPs elected on the basis of less than 10 or 20 per cent of the vote. To cast a valid (or formal) ballot, citizens are required to list three candidates in order of preference (incomplete ballots with only one or two preferences marked are to be discarded as invalid or informal). If no candidate gets a majority of first-preference votes, the lowest-polling candidate is eliminated and his or her voters’ second-preference votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. This process of elimination of candidates and redistribution of votes continues until one candidate obtains 50 per cent plus one of valid votes or until ballots are exhausted. PNG’s new electoral system is designed to encourage more moderate or conciliatory candidates, who reach out beyond their core bases of support in the hope of obtaining second- or third-preference votes from other communities. Both reforms, in different ways, anticipate and encourage a more issue and/or party-based political culture. Just as the candidate with the broader appeal is anticipated, after the introduction of the LPV, to pick up preference votes outside his or her community, so too the more broadly aligned party MP is to receive financial encouragement under the OLIPPC.

Implicit in the philosophy behind the introduction of the OLIPPC and the LPV was the view that Westminster-style political organisation and the first-past-the-post system were in fact responsible for vote-splintering among numerous candidates, high incumbent turnover and volatile allegiances inside Parliament. If these are shown to owe their origin to inappropriate electoral laws or the constitutional set-up, then institutional change would appear to be a viable method of broadening the basis of parliamentary representation and stabilising governments. If those features have other origins, the two reforms are likely to do more to change the form, rather than the substance, of PNG politics. Claims that electoral rules were responsible for PNG’s hyper-fractionalised party space sit oddly next to the Duvergerian association between plurality rules and a two-party system, suggesting that the ultimate origin of vote-splintering lies elsewhere. Variations in the financial incentive structure made little difference in the past. As Ron May points out, even a tenfold rise in the PNG nomination fee in 1991 did little to arrest candidate proliferation.