Extract from a talk by ANTHONY REGAN to last week’s Bougainville referendum conference. You can read more comprehensive coverage of the conference here
PORT MORESBY - As was agreed between the parties negotiating the Bougainville Peace Agreement, following the intervention of Australia’s then foreign minister Alexander Downer, the outcome of the referendum scheduled for June next year will not be binding on the Papua New Guinea government.
The peace agreement states that “the outcome will be subject to ratification [final decision-making authority] of the national parliament” and that the two governments (Bougainville and PNG) “will consult over the results of the referendum”.
The provisions of the PNG constitution, though, are worded differently. They state that the governments “shall consult over the results” and that the results shall be taken to the national parliament “subject to the consultation”.
In other words, if it were to be agreed to by the two governments in the course of the consultation that there is no need for the results to go to the parliament for the time being, that would be permissible.
While it seems clear that there is no requirement that the results go to the parliament, it seems clear that if there is to be any decision on the results, it is only the PNG parliament that can make the decision [and that] the Speaker shall furnish the executive of the Autonomous Bougainville Government with a copy of the minutes of the relevant proceedings “and of any decision made in the national parliament regarding the referendum”.
It seems likely that any court called upon to interpret the constitution would be guided by the provisions of the peace agreement about “final decision-making authority” being vested in the national parliament….
That the outcome of the referendum is not binding on the national government is still a surprise to some Bougainvilleans.
Upon realising this fact, some tend to express the view that if the outcome is not binding then the referendum has little value.
However, the leaders that negotiated the compromise on the referendum late in 2000 were clearly of the view that there was value in what was agreed.
In this connection, it must be emphasised that what is provided is not merely the referendum, but also a constitutional requirement that the two governments consult about the results….
In terms of the referendum provisions in the peace agreement, there are the beginnings of concern amongst Bougainvilleans in relation to statements to the effect that the referendum will not be about independence and that weapons disposal and good governance are pre-conditions for the holding of the referendum.
Given the continuing strong support for secession amongst Bougainvilleans, there are dangers that what might be perceived as statements contrary to the agreement might result in loss of faith in the Bougainville Peace Agreement as the new governance basis for managing relations of Bougainville with the rest of Papua New Guinea.