IntroductionThe independent Island of Bougainville has planned to organize a referendum on its future political status anytime between now and 2020. The agenda of the referendum is to establish whether it should move to full independence or remain a region of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The course to the referendum by the Bougainville has been complicated, costly and very long (May, 2009). Secessionist movement of the Bougainville has developed over several decades. However, the complications brought about by a lucrative yet environmentally-destructive mine, a civil war that leads to the death of many people, and a countrywide government unwilling to set practices for other regions has resulted in an increase in the complexity and divisive issue of the political status of Bougainville.
The Bougainvilleans were promised a referendum that would contain the preference of independence, ensuring a set period of independent government in the Bougainville Peace Agreement, which was signed in 2001. However, it is so far to be established if the referendum demonstrates to be the ultimate resolution to the struggles of Bougainville or if it has enabled a short-term lull in conflicts (Jennings and Claxton, 2013).
This paper will discuss the potential implications for Australia by how PNG might respond to the Island of Bougainville referendum on independence to be held at a point between now and 2020. It will identify the diplomatic, military, economic and social implications of such a move. The diplomatic part of it will examine the relevant provisions of the Bougainville Peace Agreement, relevant characteristics of PNG-Bougainville inter-governmental relationships as well as other relevant legal and political issues. The military section will assess the ability and obligation of the armed forces, police, ex-combatants and spoilers components.
The economic section will address the costs associated with ensuring peace in the region. The social part will focus on the way the Bougainville misperceptions will influence the Australian efforts to establish security and stability in the region. This paper will use this approach to argue that important risks exist in Australia as regard the direction the Bougainville Referendum will take. It will focus on the period before and after the referendum as well as the possible frustrations in case the legal barriers to executing the referendum are raised.
Moreover, it will look into the risks and temptations of accelerating the economic recovery before the referendum, and conflicting expectations between Bougainvilleans and the PNG government over what the result of the referendum would be and the way it will be executed. This paper claims that there exist important indicators that the peace process in Bougainville can be running riskily adrift with the timeline closing in on the guaranteed referendum. Given the 21st century post-conflict situation whereby violence is seen as the best tool to deal with grievances, it may prove rather difficult to resolve the tensions that may result due to the referendum.
If significant risks are not identified and countered, Bougainville may return to bloody conflict, and this may have serious impacts on Australia. The role of Australia leadership in tackling the political, social, security and economic challenges of the Bougainville Referendum is acknowledged by scholars, military leaders, and politicians (Jennings and Claxton, 2013).