Breaking Borders: From Pacific Islands to PhD

19 Aug 2014

Congratulations to Lalotoa Mulitalo who was recently awarded a PhD in Law, making her the third Samoan to be awarded a Law PhD and the second to achieve this at an Australian University.

Having no desire for any other career prospects, Dr Mulitalo completed her undergraduate degrees of Law (BA and LLB) in the Pacific Islands at The University of the South Pacific in Fiji and Vanuatu.

After graduating, Dr Mulitalo joined the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (Samoa) for four years, firstly in family law matters and later in the Land and Titles Court (LTC).

Dr Mulitalo then worked for ten years as a government lawyer at the Office of the Attorney General in Samoa where she was responsible for drafting and reviewing Bill and Regulations for passage through Cabinet and the Parliament of Samoa as well working in criminal prosecution, civil litigation and providing legal advice on complex matters involving the government.

Despite already achieving so much in her career, Dr Mulitalo felt she needed to return to university to further her education in order to benefit her home country.

“I felt there was something lacking in the way I applied myself to drafting laws for my country Samoa. Yes I was educated but in the Western sense, not in the sense that really matters to Samoa and the Pacific peoples,” Dr Mulitalo said.

“I decided I needed to look at Pacific law through higher degrees from some of Australia’s renowned universities.”

“I had heard great things about The University of Queensland (UQ), particularly in the area of research. It is renowned for originality and boldness in research. I wanted to be associated with such greatness.”

Dr Mulitalo’s PhD research focused on finding approaches to law-making that would be beneficial to Samoa and the South Pacific Islands. Her work explored law reform processes which could produce effective laws for populations with strong traditional chiefly systems, which have undertaken to uphold individual rights and the Westminster legal system under their constitutions.

“It occurred to me that it would be more beneficial for Pacific peoples if the recognition of custom and local communal realities in law reform processes is encouraged. The theory of ‘legal pluralism’ must be recognised in law making, by adopting the best from both the Western introduced legal system and the customary legal systems of the Pacific Islands,” Dr Mulitalo said.

“Samoa and the Pacific Islands are founded on customs and unique cultural values. This is certainly something I would like to continue promoting through the processes of lawmaking in this region.”

On top of her previously mentioned achievements, Dr Mulitalo was also awarded the 2013 Deans’ Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence. However, she remains humble and acknowledges that she had a lot of help along the way.

“Without the assistance of so many authorities and people, for example the financial assistance from the government of Australia and the support from the Government of Samoa, church leaders, families and friends, I would not have achieved this.”

“My supervisors Professor Jennifer Corrin (UQ) and Professor Ben White (Queensland University of Technology) must be acknowledged for their consistent academic and moral support throughout the PhD studies. I must also acknowledge both the financial and never ending support from my Brisbane families.”

Dr Mulitalo is certainly a role model for all who wish to further their education, but her professional and schooling achievements have proven to be an inspiration to women, not just from Samoa, but from around the world.

“I have received well wishes and notes of self-inspiration from other women in Samoa and in the Pacific Islands. I am informed this achievement has inspired them to also further their studies,” Dr Mulitalo said.