Towards a Referendum on the Independence of Bougainville?


Event details

SSGM Seminar

Date & time

Friday 15 February 2019


Hedley Bull Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Anthony Regan



The constitution of Papua New Guinea reflects the provisions of the Bougainville Peace Agreement by providing that a referendum for Bougainvilleans on the future political status of Bougainville must be held, within the five year ‘window’, from June 2015 to June 2020. One option in the referendum must be a ‘separate independence’ for Bougainville. In 2016, the PNG national government and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) jointly agreed on a ‘target’ date for the referendum of June 2019.

In 2018, the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, sent mixed signals about whether the referendum would be held or not. At the same time, however, a number of significant steps towards holding the referendum were made. These steps included

• a joint decision by the ABG and the national government on the question to be asked in the referendum and

• joint appointment of the nominee of the National Government’s nominee, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, as Chair of the independent Bougainville Referendum Commission; and

• The conduct of an independent review of the autonomy arrangements for Bougainville, which is a pre-requisite in setting the actual date of the referendum (as opposed to the target date).

Despite these and other positive signals suggesting the national government was committed to the holding of the referendum, funds necessary to meet the costs of the conduct of the referendum were not provided for in the 2019 national budget, handed down in November 2018. This seminar will examine both the mixed signals emanating from the prime minister, and the progress towards holding the referendum, and will seek to assess whether or not the referendum is likely to be held by the target date, or closer to the end of the five year window (June 2020) or whether it might be deferred beyond June 2020.

About the speaker

Anthony Regan is a fellow with the ANU Department of Pacific Affairs. He is a constitutional lawyer who specialises in constitutional development as part of conflict resolution. He has lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for 15 years and has been an adviser to Bougainville parties in the Bougainville peace process since 1994.

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