As Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister, arrives in Bougainville for a series of meetings and events, it is timely for us to reflect on Australia’s neo-colonial strategy for Bougainville and how it is being executed…
It goes without saying that stability and security is important to the people of the South Pacific who want to lead happy, independent lives free of exploitation. But of course stability is a fragile thing, and can regularly be threatened by a range of domestic and international forces.
One of the most significant international threats to stability in the region lies to the south in the form of the Australian government. It has used its military might, and extraordinary economic power over the past century to annex parts of South Pacific, and/or dominate national political elites.
The Australian government does this so it can open up the natural wealth of the South Pacific to foreign corporations, which make huge profits both through the extractive industries itself, and by supporting the extractive industries through finance, construction, transport and communications.
Bougainville stands out as one nation which has stood up to the Australian government, evicted their corporate monolith, Rio Tinto, and removed Australia’s destabilising influence. In response the Australian government flooded Bougainville with PNG troops in an attempt to reinstate control via Port Moresby. The people of Bougainville paid a very heavy price to come out victorious.
But this did not end Australian government efforts to assert dominance over Bougainville, and its resources. No, instead these efforts have changed form, from military force to economic and political might.
With their money-power Australia no longer floods Bougainville with PNG troops, instead it sends ‘aid’ and ‘advisers’. But this is not to help the people, but forge new chains for Bougainville.
Lets look at one prime example. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which oversaw the PNG military effort, now funds dozens of advisers who we are told come to Bougainville to ‘help’ us ‘develop’, which is code for opening up our natural resources for foreign companies.
One avenue of influence is the State Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) project, an Australian university think tank fully funded by DFAT to collect intelligence on the region and report back to Australian government officials.
The project even boasts about how much influence their staff have on our national governments. Lets take the controversial example of Anthony Regan, President Momis’ close adviser, who is also the head of the extractive industries research cluster at SSGM. SSGM states in its last annual report:
‘Anthony Regan continues to assist the Autonomous Bougainville Government in implementing the Bougainville Peace Agreement. This work includes negotiating the financial arrangements under the Agreement, consulting with stakeholder and community groups about the future of large-scale mining in Bougainville, and assisting in the development of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s legislation on mining. Anthony works closely with President John Momis and the Minister for Mining in this work’.
SSGM even boasts that Regan, who has been parachuted into the President’s office, goes back to Australia and briefs the Foreign Minister and DFAT on what he has learnt about Bougainville:
‘SSGM continues to play an integral role in the formulation of Australia’s policy in Bougainville … Anthony Regan regularly participates in consultations with a specially convened group in DFAT, chaired by the Deputy Secretary, DFAT. This group monitors political, social, and economic issues in Bougainville’.
In fact SSGM claims it acts as a resource centre for the Australian government, ‘in the last 12 months, we [SSGM] have conducted over 100 discrete briefings’. Beneficiaries of these briefings include DFAT, the Department of Defence and Australia’s intelligence agency, the Office of National Assessment.
What we are seeing is a new method of asserting Australia’s power abroad. It is no longer troops but advisers Australia sends to Bougainville. They then write our laws, ‘advise’ our senior statesman, and provide them with ‘information’ on the proper course Bougainville should steer – and why is it this course involves opening up Bougainville to Australian miners and land-grabbers?!
These same advisers then go back to Canberra and tell the Australian government – who bankrolls their operations – all they have learnt about Bougainville when working in the ABG.
It is a very good thing the war is over, but those defeated in the battlefield will always try to win by other means so they can take Bougainville’s resources, and once again control our nation. Political tools must now be used to challenge Australia’s destabilising influence in the region.