BY PAUL OATES
SINCE THE SOVEREIGN NATION of Papua New Guinea gained its Independence from Australia in 1975 there have been a number of amendments to the constitution.
On Tuesday of last week, three new commissioners were sworn in to the Constitutional and Law Reform Committee (CLRC).
There are six part time commissioners and a full time chairman of this committee whose goal is now to reform the PNG constitution and laws of the land.
The Commission comprises a number of eminent persons including Gerard Lange (a constitutional law expert), Rev William Longar (representing the PNG Council of Churches), Prof Betty Lovai (Dean of the UPNG School of Humanities and Social Sciences) and Prof Luluaki (Executive Dean of the UPNG School of Law).
Yet even as the new commissioners were being appointed, the government was planning to make prospective changes to the country’s constitution.
On Tuesday, in a vote of 63-7, the PNG parliament passed the Judicial Conduct Bill with what seemed to some the utmost alacrity.
This Bill has been claimed to directly challenge the independence of the PNG judiciary which is a central plank of the Westminster system of government.
Opposition Leader Dame Carol Kidu said: “We are taking a wrong way. We are breaking the fabric of the constitution and I am really worried for the future of PNG.”
By contrast, one of the most important aspects of the Australian constitution is that it takes referendum approval in the majority of Australian States to make changes to a document put together by the founding fathers oi the late 19th Century.
Over the years, 44 amendments have been proposed - only eight have been successful.
To succeed, a proposed amendment to the Australian constitution requires:
an absolute majority in both houses of the federal parliament; and
the approval in a referendum by a majority of electors nationwide, and a majority in a majority of states
One can but wonder whether many of the PNG Constitutional and Law Reform Committee’s responsibilities may well be superseded by the actions of Parliament by the time future changes might be presented.
Clearly the majority of the members of the PNG parliament consider their collective experience and qualifications enable them to determine what some see as dramatic changes to PNG law without any reported prior reference to CLRC for consideration.