Bal Kama was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy in March 2020 for a thesis titled Reconceptualising the Role of the Judiciary in Papua New Guinea’s ‘Home Grown’ Constitution.
Why did you choose ANU?
As one of the world’s leading research institutions, ANU was the perfect choice. I was also attracted to the ANU’s strong focus on the Pacific region.
What did you do prior to your Higher Degree Research (HDR)?
Prior to starting my thesis, I worked as a legal consultant for the United Nations Women (UN Women) in Papua New Guinea (PNG), did some tutoring at the University of Canberra Law School and volunteered for the Aboriginal Legal Services in Canberra.
Why did you decide to pursue a PhD?
I gained an interest in constitutional law issues during my law honours program, where I researched the 2011-2012 constitutional crisis in PNG. The crisis entailed PNG having two Prime Ministers for seven months and an open conflict between judges and politicians. Following the positive reception gained by my honours thesis, including being invited to present it at the Australian Law Council, I wanted to more deeply explore constitutional law issues at the PhD level.
Can you tell us more about your research project?
My PhD research set out to reconceptualise the nature of judicial power under the PNG ‘home-grown’ Constitution and its interaction with the executive and the legislative arms of government. In summary, there were three key findings.
First, that the endeavour for a ‘home-grown’ Constitution in PNG was a constitutional ingenuity in which the judiciary does not have a strictly legal function – it also has an overtly political function.
Second, that the doctrine of separation of powers be redefined in PNG to reflect what the thesis referred to as the ‘home-grown’ doctrine, which includes a highly liberal judiciary and a ‘fourth arm’ of government.
Third, that the PNG Constitution needs to be recognised and engaged with as a ‘transformative’ document.
The thesis drew on the constitutions of Australia, India, South Africa and Kenya to inform its findings.
Why did you chose this topic?
I wanted to understand more about the nature of judicial power in PNG after the 2011-2012 constitutional crisis and how it may differ to the Australian Constitution given the close legal and colonial history of the two countries. The thesis demonstrated that assumptions of legal doctrines applied in the Anglo-Australian settings should not be unquestionably applied to PNG, or by extension, to other Pacific countries.
Who are your supervisors? How and why did you pick them?
My supervisors were Professor James Stellios FAAL from the ANU College of Law, Anthony Regan and Professor Ron May from the ANU School of Asia Pacific Affairs and Assistant Professor Susan Priest from the University of Canberra Law School. My research had an interdisciplinary element of constitutional law, legal history and political science so I wanted a supervisory team with different expertise. As Chair, Professor Stellios was very instrumental in driving my project to the end so I am greatly indebted to him.
How different is studying for HDR in comparison to your previous degree?
There are few significant differences.
- Starting a PhD after completing undergraduate studies was daunting at first. It was a significant step up in terms of the pressure for critical thinking, juggling of different ideas and the wide span of reading expected.
- In HDR there was a lot more independence and freedom – with no rigid timetables or assessments. It required significant focus and discipline.
- In HDR supervisors provide regular feedback, but as there is no grading each semester it demands a higher level of self-discipline and motivation. It also requires the ability to reach out to staff and colleagues when faced with any obstacles.
- In HDR I was fortunate to receive an ANU research scholarship whereas it was more challenging at undergraduate studies as I had to work multiple odd jobs to sustain my studies.
What are your next steps, planned or aspired, after getting your PhD?
I would like to get into legal practice and legal advisory roles and assist law and constitutional reform efforts in the Pacific region. With an academic background in political science and international relations as well, I am also hoping to contribute to researching and engaging with the complex intersections of law and politics in the Pacific.
What advice would you give students who are planning on pursuing HDR in the future?
Be passionate about your research topic but also be prepared to adjust it along the way. There is more to life than academia! Allow yourself to engage in other interests and equally stimulating endeavors (without getting too distracted, of course). Celebrate progress, be humble when receiving feedback and don’t be hard on yourself! Finally, find a supportive supervisory team that believes in you and your research topic.
Find out more about Higher Degree Research at ANU College of Law.