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Tuesday 19 May 2015 | Published in Regional


PORT MORS BY – Papua New Guinea has banned Australians from travelling to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, following Canberra’s announcement of plans to open a new diplomatic mission on the island.

The Papua New Guinea government claims it had no prior knowledge of Australia’s plans. Bougainville is an autonomous part of PNG, but will be holding a referendum in the next five years to consider independence. Island-wide elections are currently underway to elect a government that will negotiate the date and wording of the referendum question.

The timing of Australia’s announcement of the new diplomatic post angered the government in Port Morseby. The diplomatic response has been swift. “I have instructed the chief migration offi cer to impose the ban with immediate effect and to notify all PNG Overseas missions and posts and domestic carriers of the ban,” Foreign Affairs Minister Rimbink Pato said in a statement released yesterday. “All diplomatic and foreign government officials wishing to visit Bougainville must now seek clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs before travelling,” he said.

The ban will apply to tourist, business and other short-term entry visas, but not to work and permanent visa holders. PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said he was “shocked” to learn of Australia’s plans for a new diplomatic mission. “We were shocked to learn from the budget documents that Australia was planning to establish a diplomatic post in Bougainville,” O’Neill said.

“As we all know, Bougainville is an integral part of Papua New Guinea. As we respect the territorial integrity of others, we expect others to respect ours as well.” O’Neill, who was speaking at the Lowy Institute while on a visit to Austrlaia, said he had had no prior communication from the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, about the Bougainville mission.

“I read about it as much as you did – in the budget papers,” he told reporters in Sydney. However, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has previously denied there had been a failure to consult – saying the matter was discussed with Papua New Guinea last year and formally communicated before last week’s budget. Bishop said she had instructed a senior DFAT offi cial to travel to PNG in response to questions about the ban. “I am continuing my engagement with the PNG government at the highest levels,” Bishop said in a statement on Monday. “I look forward to further high-level engagement with my PNG counterparts at the PALM7 meeting in Japan later this week,” she said in a statement. “Our overseas development assistance in 2015-16 is estimated to be $477.3 million. This includes approximately $50 million directly earmarked for the autonomous Bougainville government to promote economic development.”

The new mission in Bougainville’s capital Buka was one of fi ve new posts announced in the latest Australian federal budget, including Doha in Qatar, Makassar in Indonesia, Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia and Phuket in Thailand. Papua New Guinea has consulates in Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns. Pato said Australians already residing in Bougainville on work and permanent resident visas would not be affected by the ban, but it would apply to all other Australian passport holders who intend to visit on tourist, business and other short-term entry visas. Both Pato and O’Neill have publicly and offi cially expressed a mix of outrage and surprise at the announcement of the mission. O’Neil is adamant that there had been no earlier consultation and nothing had been agreed, while Pato said the plan was “mischievous” and “outrageous”.