PhD candidate Bal Kama on juggling work, study, and media outreach

Bal Kama standing in front of a wattle tree
PhD candidate, Bal Kama, is researching the relationship between Papua New Guinea's judiciary and parliament

I think being a PhD student has provided me with an opportunity to advance a research interest but also a platform to be part of a broader conversation for social good

Bal Kama commenced his doctorate at the ANU College of Law in 2014. He’s examining the relationship between the Papua New Guinea judiciary and parliament. Bal is also a sessional lecturer and unit convenor at the University of Canberra, writer and media commentator on Papua New Guinea Affairs, and tweets at @BalKama5.

Why did you decide to come to ANU for your doctorate?

Given my interest in Pacific law, I decided to come to the ANU because of its reputation as a leading university in public law and Pacific related studies and research.

Why did you decide to study the relationship between PNG's judiciary and parliament?

The impetus for my research came from observing the constitutional impasse in Papua New Guinea between 2011 and 2012 where the country technically had two prime ministers – one declared by the Supreme Court and the other elected by the Parliament. The Chief Justice was arrested for treason and the judiciary was accused of being politicised. Apart from being interested in the politics of the case, I wanted to investigate the underlying structural causes in terms of the workings of the PNG Constitution, and the functions and powers of the courts and the parliament in the hope of finding potential fault lines.

What have you learned so far about that relationship?

I have learned at least two important things. First, there is a history of tension between the judiciary and the parliament dating back to the 1970s after PNG got its independence from Australia. So the issue has precedents and it promises to continue into the future if the underlying causes are not addressed. Second, the power relationship between the arms of government under the PNG Constitution is quite unique compared to Australia or any other Pacific countries. The Supreme Court is given very broad powers to regulate the workings of the Parliament. It was primarily in response to the injustices of the Australian colonial government. Australia colonised PNG for nearly 70 years and there was little accountability in the way it governed. It was also a response to the political attitudes of some of the national leaders at the time. The drafters of the Constitution wanted to change that by giving the Supreme Court greater power to regulate the Parliament. This constitutional design is increasingly challenged by contemporary political actors, hence, the tension between the two arms of government.

You're one of our most prominent PhD candidates who speaks to/writes for media outlets and blogs. How has doing this assisted your research? For example, has it helped you streamline an argument?

Being at the ANU has provided opportunities for me to engage constructively with different issues of public and regional concern. I find that engaging with media platforms has helped deepen my understanding of certain issues that I am working on and creates a dialogue with other interested thinkers and actors. Such engagement and exchanges certainly help with constructing some of my arguments in the thesis as well as my position on issues broadly.

How have you found balancing work and study?

I tend to wind down on a weekly basis by attending church, spending time with family and friends and engaging in activities like playing touch footy and refining my interest in acoustic guitar. Where possible, I also take short breaks on weekends away from Canberra.

What is the postgrad community like in ANU Law?

I think there is a strong sense of collegiality and support network for the ANU Law postgrad community on campus. Initiatives like the ‘Shut up and Write’ sessions and the HDR Forum are led by the students and have provided a great place to encourage and challenge each other in our academic endeavours.

What would you like to do after you complete your PhD?

Ideally, I would like to be in a position where I can contribute to efforts of justice, law reform and good governance in the Pacific. I hope to contribute to ways that enhance Pacific’s relations with others in the region and the world at large. This may entail being an advocate, policy maker or an academic. I am open to consider these options.

Was there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself, your PhD, or studying at ANU?

I am thankful for the opportunity ANU has given me to study and those who are supporting me through this journey. I think being a PhD student has provided me with an opportunity to advance a research interest but also a platform to be part of a broader conversation for social good. My encouragement to future students is to embrace both, especially when in a place like the ANU.


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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team