Nou Vada becomes the Law Students’ representative on the UPNG Student Representative Council, and understands the impact his activism may have on his future career. Students push for accountability in the National Parliament and win their hoped-for outcome, but via a different pathway.
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In 2012 I became the law students’ representative on the Students Representative Council. We were determined to stop the Judicial Conduct Act at all costs. We organised law students, public policy management students, and political science students, along with any other interested students, and reviewed the Act.
We prepared a statement pointing out the Act’s legal, policy and constitutional flaws, and presented it to the student body. Everyone agreed that we had to act on it, and we protested against the government, based on the facts we had uncovered. Part of our protests involved lobbying parliamentarians and other leaders to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for review.
Students pressured parliamentarians to abandon the Judicial Conduct Act in 2012.
Photo: ActNOW PNG
The public pressure resulted in a Supreme Court review, which stopped the Act dead in its tracks. For the first time, I felt the personal weight of my decision to lead students. I wasn’t sure anymore if I'd be admitted to the bar, due to the very public profile I had taken as a student leader on these issues.
Friendships and relationships ended and were strained because of the work. At one point, I would have anxiety issues or nervous attacks when I saw Toyota Land Cruisers with tinted windows drive by - expecting my choices to be a student leader in those dangerous times to catch up with me.We marched two times to the government precinct at Waigani.
The first had been against the Judicial Conduct Act. The second was as part of a larger community protest when the parliament attempted to delay the elections unreasonably.
We took the view that there are some things parliament should never do, even if it could do. Delaying elections was one of these things. MPs argued that it was for a few months. We countered that once we allowed a few months, there was nothing stopping them to delay for a few years as well, and then indefinitely.
Nou Vada and other students on a protest march at Waigani
Photo supplied: Nou Vada
Elections were conducted as properly scheduled.
Peter O'Neill was returned and confirmed as Prime Minister. His Deputy Prime Minister during the impasse - Belden Namah - was now the opposition leader.
Sir Michael Somare became a government middle bencher.
I swear, even Game of Thrones writer George R. R. Martin couldn't come up with intricate political intrigue like this.
And we the students, for all our efforts, were left with only a week or two to catch up on months of study and head straight into examinations.
This article is the third in a series based on a speech that the author gave to students at the University of Papua New Guinea in 2017 in conjunction with Transparency International Papua New Guinea. Previous instalments have covered the author’s experiences in 2010 and 2011. Follow @auspngnetwork to be notified when the next instalment is published.