THE Senate Estimates Committee in Canberra has been told Australia’s foreign affairs department has killed off a plan to establish a diplomatic post in Bougainville.
Last year's Australian budget revealed that a new diplomatic mission would be established in Bougainville, causing a major diplomatic row when the Papua New Guinean government claimed it had not been consulted.
The result was that prime minister Peter O'Neill retaliated by briefly stopping Australians from travelling to the autonomous province.
The Special Broadcasting Service has reported that foreign affairs boss Peter Varghese (pictured) has now acknowledged that Australian officials did not seek permission from the PNG government at the highest level before making the announcement.
Mr Varghese explained that his department had sought a permanent base in Bougainville because there is a large Australian aid program in the province.
"It was not handled in the end to anyone's satisfaction," Mr Varghese told the Senate estimates hearing on Friday.
As a result of the diplomatic brouhaha, Australia's then high commissioner to PNG, Deborah Stokes, made an early exit from her posting.
SBS reported that Mr Varghese said his department had learned a lesson from the experience and properly consulted the PNG government before announcing a new mission for Lae in this year's budget.
But it has not tried to reinstate its plan to locate one in Bougainville, which – facing a referendum on independence before 2020 – is a matter of great sensitivity to the PNG government.