Thank you Master of Ceremonies,
First I would like to extend a warm welcome to the Hon Prime Minister and thank him for accepting our invitation to visit Panguna today. I would also like to personally thank the Hon. Jimmy Miringtoro Member for Central Bougainville and Minister for Communications for his assistance in bringing about this historic meeting.
The Hon Prime Minister, National Government Ministers and Officials, ABG President, Ministers and Government Officials, Council of Elders of the Meekamui Panguna Land Owners, Church and Community Leaders, Police Officers, District Administration Offices, the Meekamui Defence Force, Women, Students and our beautiful young children of Panguna.
Today is a very significant day. It is significant because we the Meekamui remember our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who lost their lives fighting for a better life for the people of Panguna and customary landowners of Bougainville. It is significant because we focus on our future whilst remembering our past. It is significant because we the Me’ekamui, announce to the Hon PM of PNG and the world at large our intention to formally conclude the civil conflict that existed between Bougainville and PNG and most of all it is significant because we make peace and reconciliation the foundation of our future.
It is well known that the Meekamui through our then human rights leader, Francis Ona supported the peace process but did not sign the peace agreement because the terms for peace were never consented to by all our Council of Elders. I am afraid to say Prime Minister, that peace was secured for the people of Bougainville but a future for our people was not.
Hon Prime Minister many of the problems faced by the Meekamui when peace was secured still exist today and will continue until we find a solution.
To assist you understand the problems faced by our people it is important to consider our history. After World War II, the territories of Papua and New Guinea were placed in Australia’s trust under the United Nations International Trusteeship system. Australia’s powers over our territories were the same legislative, administrative, jurisdictional powers that Australia held over its own territories, however these powers were limited by clear obligations to;
• take into consideration the customary rights of Territory inhabitants
• respect indigenous peoples rights and interests
• prevent the granting of rights over native land to non-indigenous people except without the consent of the competent public authority.
Australia set up a public authority and this Administration granted between 1963 and 1965 several prospecting licences to CRA (now Rio Tinto). Successful exploration led to the Bougainville Copper Act which was legislated by the Administration in 1967 and subsequent granting of the Special Mining Lease in 1969.
We submit that the legislation and the granting of the leases was contrary to the clear obligations imposed upon the Australian Administration as Trustee. At the time, we tried to bring a claim in the High Court of Australia to prevent these actions but we were unsuccessful and this was the beginning of the injustice suffered by the Bougainville people.
In 1975, following Australia’s withdrawal as sovereign, Papua New Guinea became an independent State and adopted the Bougainville Copper Act 1967 with some amendments, which were adopted in 1974. Michael Somare, who was elected Chief Minister in 1972 became our first Prime Minister and assumed the responsibility for the people of Bougainville.
The Bougainville Provincial Government was formally established in 1974 to administer Bougainville as a province of PNG. To quell Bougainville’s calls for secession, Chief Minister Somare promised the provincial government that it would receive 95% of Panguna Mine’s royalties in addition to an effective veto power over further mineral exploration. A failure to fulfil these promises and a failure to increase the income of the mine’s affected peoples resulted in greater disaffection within Bougainville’s government and population.
The Panguna mine commenced production in 1972 and was a huge success for PNG. Tax revenues from the mine contributed 17% of internally generated government revenue, the value of minerals exported made up 44% of PNG’s exports, and PNG secured a 19% ownership stake in Bougainville Copper Limited which it continues to hold today. The mine however was a disaster for the people of Bougainville and in 1981 attempts to renegotiate the 1974 Agreement failed in the early stages. PNG rejected Bougainville’s demand for all or part of PNG’s equity, a greater share of tax revenue collected, an increase in the nominal royalty paid and an increase in the Non-Renewable Resource Fund levy.
The failure of PNG to negotiate meant that PNG prospered at the expense of the people of Bougainville and this inequality ultimately led to the Conflict that erupted in 1989.
As you can see from your visit today the damage suffered by our people is clear and has been well documented;
• The Jaba River is poisoned.
• Our people were relocated with a complete disregard for their needs and the needs of future generations.
• We lost our land.
• We were displaced from our homes by a Trustee appointed to ensure our protection and we were denied natural justice and compensation from a newly government appointed to represent our interests.
We now live in the ruins of the mine, our children require better education and our community requires better access to social services and infrastructure.
We the Tribal Government of the Meekamui, believe that the quality of any civilisation is measured by the way in which it protects its civilian rights, the way in which it cares for its sick and the way in which it educates its young people.
In Bougainville our Police Service suffers from a shortage of manpower, logistics and financial support.
In Panguna the Health Clinic is unmanned most of the time. We have no secondary schooling or technical college for our young people.
As President of the Meekamui it is my responsibility to work with you Prime Minister and all stakeholders to ensure that all of these services are improved quickly.
It is for this reason that I would like to acknowledge my personal appreciation for your visit to Panguna today.
Ladies and Gentlemen please join with me in showing our heartfelt appreciation to Prime Minister O’Neil for being the first Prime Minister to visit the Meekamui and the people of Panguna since the Conflict.
[Please everybody give a big Bougainville clap]
The Prime Minister should be acknowledged……. The establishment of meaningful dialogue between the Meekamui and the Prime Minister is essential if we are to achieve a better community for all our people.
The Tribal Government of the Meekamui would like to take this opportunity to assure the Prime Minister that we are not anti- business or anti-mining. The Meekamui are only interested in building a better community for our people and guaranteeing a bright future for our children. It is this commitment to our people and our future that stops us from repeating the mistakes of the past and ensures that our focus is entirely upon our future.
Prime Minister we have a historic opportunity to build a better Bougainville and a better and more equitable PNG that is defined by our future actions and not by our past. We have an opportunity to work together to ensure that our people will prosper and I am very excited to work with you on this historic project.
Ladies and Gentlemen shortly after this meeting the Leaders of the Meekamui and our advisers will join the Prime Minister in historic talks to build a better Bougainville. It is my hope that this meeting will provide a framework for future meetings with the Prime Minister and his advisers that will deliver the necessary services to protect our citizens rights, care for our sick and educate our young.
I would once again like to take this opportunity to thank him for his visit, may God bless you Prime Minister, our people and our beautiful country.