You might remember parliamentary twinning as the program that pairs parliaments across the Pacific, which we’ve been exploring through our ongoing ‘Twin Peeks’ series. Last December, Twin Peeks introduced Ruby Garnean, a senior Procedure Officer in the Bougainville House of Representatives. Now meet her colleague, Deputy Clerk Peter Topura, who feels a deep commitment to the twinning program.
When did you first join the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES and what did you do before that?
I joined the Bougainville House of Representatives in 2010 as a cadet, recruited from university. I was first appointed executive officer to the Office of the Clerk, then appointed Procedure Officer and then First Clerk Assistant. I was appointed Deputy Clerk in 2020.
You’ve visited Sydney and the NSW Parliament several times. What do you recall most from these visits?
Sure, I have been to Sydney and the NSW Parliament for several times. I regard those times as the ‘glorious lifetime’ in my personal life as well as being a parliamentary officer of the Bougainville House of Representatives. I can recall it was a noble thing to do for my parliament to undertake studies to improve the parliamentary procedures of my legislature, especially the extensive review of the standing orders that were adopted by the House in March 2015. I can imagine, without those opportunities, I would not have the level of understanding, I have in terms of parliamentary procedures. I did also enjoy working alongside staff from the NSW Parliament, both from the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. It was one of my greatest moments in life to sit in the chambers of both Houses.
It was not all work, there were moments of fun like a camping expedition in the Blue Mountains, and going to Manly Beach and Bondi Beach. I can recall my routine walk every weekend along the Sydney Harbour Bridge and having fun while watching either rugby or soccer at the stadium.
What do you enjoy most about being a parliamentary officer and working in parliamentary procedure?
I have been so privileged to undergo training and study outside of Bougainville to widen my parliamentary knowledge.
Parliamentary procedure is the most enjoyable topic. It is fascinating to know the technical aspects of parliamentary procedures – to have a concrete basis to provide authoritative advice to the Speaker and Members of the House without fear or favour. I always keep in mind the phrase ‘joy of procedures’ because it reflects on the way things are done and accomplished with passion and a smile.
How is COVID affecting Bougainville at the moment?
The COVID-19 pandemic hit Bougainville some time ago. At that time, Bougainville went through a number of lockdowns. The Autonomous Bougainville Government made vaccination available voluntarily to the people and called for Bougainvilleans to follow COVID protocols – what in PNG in general is called ‘Niupela Pasin’ [the ‘new normal’]. It simply means wearing a mask everywhere you go, especially in public places.
There is no alarming record of COVID-19 in Bougainville at this stage, and people seem to be relaxed and doing their everyday business. They don’t mind too much now, unlike when COVID-19 hit Bougainville for the first time and there was fear and anxiety amongst the people. In terms of work, here at Bougainville House of Representatives, we are working on a normal schedule.
Can you give us a quick update on the implementation of the referendum on independence for Bougainville?
Bougainvilleans voted in the referendum in 2019. The people of Bougainville were given two options in the constitutionally guaranteed referendum: the first being ‘Greater Autonomy’ and the second option being ‘Independence’. An overwhelming 97.7 percent of people voted for independence [from Papua New Guinea (PNG)].
Under section 342 of the PNG Constitution, two things have to happen for Bougainville to be granted independence: the first is consultation over the outcomes of the referendum between the [Government of PNG and the Autonomous Bougainville Government]. To date, three inter-governmental consultations have been held as required by section 342. These consultations were held in Kokopo, East New Britain Province in May 2021, in Wabag, Enga Province in July 2021, and in Port Moresby in December 2021. At the Wabag meeting, the two governments agreed on a timeline to implement the referendum result on independence and have agreed to determine an independence/political settlement no earlier than 2025 and no later than 2027.
The Prime Minister of PNG, the Hon. James Marape, and the President of Bougainville, the Hon. Ishmael Toroama, signed the Era Kone Covenant on 5 April 2022. The Era Kone Covenant captures all the agreements reached by the two governments in the three consultations, and also provides the legal pathway to bring the referendum results and the consultation outcomes into the National Parliament. The Covenant requires a ‘double entrenchment’ where the National Executive Council and the Bougainville Executive Council sanction the Era Kone Covenant in their respective jurisdictions. The Joint Supervisory Body – a body made up of ministers from both executive councils – met in Port Moresby on the 22 April 2022 and endorsed the Era Kone Covenant and directed the two technical teams to develop the Constitutional Regulations to prescribe the intentions of the Era Kone Covenant, capturing a legal pathway to National Parliament. The Constitutional Regulations will be made under section 349 of the National Constitution by the Head of State, acting with and in accordance with the advice from the National Executive Council upon the approval by the Bougainville Executive Council.
Can you tell us a bit about your home?
I come from Central Bougainville, a village away from the main town of Arawa. Now I have three kids, two boys and one baby girl. My two boys are now in school. Interestingly, my first child was born during the years of my engagement with the NSW Parliament and I decided to name him ‘Simon Johnston’ in honour of the tireless efforts of Mr Simon Johnston from NSW Parliament, who coordinated twinning programs at that time. For that is the legacy that will live beyond and into the future. My child is the symbol of our relationship at the level of ‘people to people’.
I miss my kids whenever I am away from home for official duties. I give them phone calls whenever I find time. Most of the time, I am working and giving my best for Bougainville and its people.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Only during the weekends am I not at work, and I spend time doing my own stuff or playing with my kids. Otherwise, I hardly go for breaks except for Christmas. Most of the time my focus is on work even though I am at home, because apart from my parliamentary duties, I am heavily engaged in the technical team meetings to support our government. When I go home, most times I do awareness on the political process to educate my people.