From February 1973 to April 1977, when the Organic Law on Provincial Government came into effect, movement towards autonomy for Bougainville was remarkable, all the more so given the high degree of centralisation of the previous colonial administration system. At each step of the way, the initiative was taken by Bougainville, albeit with CPC support at some crucial points. But although there was little pressure for change from other districts, the three main sets of concessions made by central government – in November 1973, July 1974 and August 1976 – were extended to all districts.
Having determined to move quickly towards decolonisation, Australia was content largely to stand back from decisions on future arrangements. As a result, constitutional debate – including the debate on decentralisation – was essentially an internal one, although influenced by external ideas. At the time the CPC was established, there was consensus in the new nationalist government under Chief Minister Michael Somare that an independent Papua New Guinea should be dramatically different from the colonial regime. The CPC looked to develop a state more democratic, participatory, responsive and accountable than the colonial state had been. Its decentralisation proposals were part of a complex web of recommendations directed to these goals. For the CPC the most suitable units for decentralisation of power were the existing districts. They had the advantage of being large enough to be viable, were widely recognised and signs of mobilisation and identity-formation, particularly on Bougainville, were already being shown at such a level. Other proposals to divide the country into four main regions (Papua Coast, New Guinea Coast, Highlands and Islands) were rejected, as the CPC feared such divisions would promote regionalism and fail to address the country's diversity adequately.
Although the CPC de facto chairperson, Catholic priest Father John Momis, was a Bougainvillean, the CPC was not just reacting to local Bougainvillean pressures for autonomy. Its views on decentralisation were part of a complex political and constitutional analysis that pushed it towards uniform decentralisation, rather than any asymmetrical arrangements. From 1973 to 1976, Bougainville swung between demands for special arrangements suitable to it and acceptance of uniform arrangements applicable to all parts of the country. Although eschewing violence, Bougainville was in a fairly strong position to advance its agenda. The BSPC demands of July 1973 – essentially confederal arrangements with a right to choose independence at a later date – were deliberately over-ambitious. The real concern of the Bougainville negotiating team was to secure both a reasonable share of the Panguna mine revenue, upon which the national government was increasingly relying for its own financing and the autonomy to use such resources as Bougainville determined. The resultant compromise, reached in 1973, allowed decentralisation of powers for district government, followed in 1974 by negotiations on establishing an interim provincial government.
The Final Report of the CPC, released in July 1974, offered detailed recommendations for constitutionally entrenched legislative, executive and financial powers for transfer to an elected body in each province. The CPC had by then developed its own power base, through its widespread public education campaigns and consultative meetings, and developed its proposals with significant independence from the national government. However, the disparity between the CPC and increasingly conservative central government became apparent, as the national government opposed key features of the proposals, particularly the entrenchment of the arrangements and the supremacy of provincial laws over national laws. A compromise, reached in the House of Assembly, was to state key principles in the Constitution, leaving details for an organic law with a lesser degree of entrenchment. A follow-up committee was established to decide what should be included in the proposed organic law on provincial government.