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Law School heads to Samoan parliament

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Parliamentary staff in Samoa have tapped into the expertise of one of the University’s most respected political scientists, but the learning has gone both ways.

Sixteen officers are undertaking a Graduate Certificate in Parliamentary Law and Practice with Associate Professor Richard Herr for the first time since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

Richard recently spent two weeks delivering the course in-person in the capital Apia, with students now working through a refreshed online offering.

Well known in Tasmania for his eloquent dissections of politics on the local airwaves, Richard is also lecturing in the School of Law.

His association with the countries of the South Pacific is longstanding. In 2010 he was invited by the United Nations Development Program to review the needs of the Samoan parliament, eventually leading to a first intake of students in 2014.

It also led to Associate Professor Herr gaining a deeper understanding of the nuances of the Westminster model as it’s been adopted in different parts of the world.

“Samoa has its own variations on the model based on its own historical experience,” he said.

“The Samoan parliamentary process is strongly rooted in traditional political authority known as fa'amatai. Only persons who have a chiefly title (matai) are eligible to stand for parliament.

“Samoa has a constitutional provision that women must constitute at least 10 per cent of the membership of the 53-seat single-house Parliament.

“Village pulenu'u (mayors) must certify that an intending candidate has undertaken sufficient community service to qualify as an electoral candidate.”

Parliamentary officers are studying the introductory unit Parliamentary Law, Practice and Procedure this semester and will complete a research thesis in semester one next year.

Deputy Clerk of the Parliament Lesa Yonita Tuia said the course was proving invaluable to staff in the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

“The course has provided staff with more understanding of what Parliament is, its inherent functions, most importantly understanding the importance of their duty as officers of parliament,” Ms Tuia said.

“It is my profound belief that the more one understands the institution of Parliament and their purpose for serving in the Office of the Clerk, the more efficient services to members will be, thus strengthening the supremacy of Parliament in Samoa.”

The program was initially supported by the Australian government and at times later by the Tasmanian Parliament under a twinning arrangement with Samoa.

It has also been delivered for parliamentary staff in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville.

“Being compelled to delve more deeply into the operation of the Samoan Parliament as it has adapted the Westminster model to meet national expectations has taught me a great deal about the similar adaptations made in Australia,” Associate Professor Herr said.

“I have learned to appreciate more fully the various nuances in the Westminster model and their practical political consequences.”

Image: A previous group of Samoan parliamentary officers graduates.