Australia's military role in Bougainville

October 26, 1994

By Ian Harrison

In the six years of the Bougainville war, the Australian government has directly invested over $200 million into the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF). According to Department of Defence information, around 100 Australian military personnel train or serve with the PNGDF each year.

Unofficial sources hint that the figure is considerably larger — particularly with regard to Australia's involvement along the Irian Jaya frontier, which seems to be considered as Australia's unofficial land border with Indonesia. Australian advisers train PNG soldiers in Port Moresby, teach specialist troops, introduce new equipment and training techniques and act as consultants to the PNG government.

PNGDF personnel also receive specialist training in Australia — signals at Watsonia; junior officers at Duntroon; senior officers at Queenscliff; pilots at RAAF Point Cook and Oakey in Queensland; naval officers at Launceston, Fremantle and HMAS Cerberus at Western Port Bay, where PNGDF officers are currently being trained in communications and gunnery. In short, training supplied by Australia has been absolutely central to the continuation of the Bougainville war.

The clearest example comes from 1991, the low point of the war for Papua New Guinea. Its security force abandoned Bougainville in 1990. Over the next two years, Australia trained more than 400 PNG soldiers in jungle warfare at the Canungra Warfare Centre behind the Gold Coast. The Australian government pumped $52 million into PNG's army in 1991 alone. The soldiers trained in Queensland then almost certainly participated in the invasion of Bougainville at the end of that year.

On Bougainville itself, RAAF personnel advise their PNG partners on establishing, maintaining and using the helicopters and Nomad fixed-wing aircraft that Australia has supplied. The Australian government also bankrolled the mercenaries who flew the choppers and Nomads until PNG pilots could be fully trained.

Australian navy advisers perform a similar service for the four Pacific class patrol boats that Australia gave to PNG. It is also known that two Australian "engineering" teams have been on Bougainville for at least a year. The Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) has encountered these fully armed "engineers" patrolling the jungles.

Virtually all PNGDF equipment comes from Australia. The design for their camouflage jackets is produced here; the rifles, machine guns, and mortars they use are of Australian manufacture; most of their rifle ammunition was produced at the Australian Defence Industries' old factory in Footscray, and mortar bombs at the St Mary's factory in Sydney. A "Supply Support Agreement" signed by PNG and Australia allows the PNGDF to treat Australian military depots like supermarkets. Australian arms manufacturers were not slow to become involved either, supplying a wide range of supplementary equipment.

Australia is up to its neck in the war. It did everything it could, short of sending in battalions of its own troops, to perpetuate the conflict with the hope of some sort of PNG military victory. Not surprising then, is the extreme hostility of the Bougainville people to Australian involvement in the peacekeeping force. Many Bougainvilleans have had members of their families and their friends killed by Australian-made weapons, carried by Australian-trained hands, in what is an Australian-inspired war.

The recent peace process was the third time talks have been held during this war. Belligerent militarism scuttled both the previous attempts to end the war. However, PNG now faces a severe financial crisis. The new prime minister, Julius Chan, is a child of the world economy. In purely financial terms, he sees the war as losing PNG millions of kina and producing no revenue whatsoever.

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