Ten Questions with Lord Fusitu'a

The ANU Alumni Series

Lord Fusitu’a, Tongan MP and nobleman

Tonga is the home of the last surviving monarchy in the Pacific, and was also the only country in the pacific Islands that was not colonised. ANU has been the university of choice for a number of Tongans in recent years, including the daughter of King Tupou VI, Princess Angelika Tuku‘aho. The next feature profile in our ANU Alumni Series is Tongan MP and nobleman, Lord Fusitu‘a, who studied commerce and law at ANU in the 80s and 90s and is now a high-profile politician in the Pacific.

From where did you come and why did you choose ANU?

I came initially from boarding school at King’s College, Auckland and then returned as a recent graduate of the University of the South Pacific. In both cases I chose to go to ANU due to it being one of the most reputable Universities in the world and the premiere tertiary institution in our region. Further to that I am Canberra born and raised (St. Brigid’s Primary Dickson, St. Edmunds College, Griffith), and although my parents and I returned home to Tonga to live in the early 80’s I did then, and still have, much of my family living in Canberra, so it is as much home to me as Tonga.

What did you love and hate the most about Canberra?

Canberra was an idyllic place to grow up, surrounded on the one hand by family and friends it was very nurturing. On the other hand, being surrounded by centres of research and learning, as well as national monuments in everything from the arts and culture to the sciences, and being near the sitting authorities and structures of the highest levels of all branches of a Westminster democracy – the executive, judiciary and legislature. It was a great place to grow up, surrounded by two areas of my greatest interest: the law and governance.

What else did you do (other than study) at ANU?

Apart from being a student at ANU I also worked part time. In good Polynesian male student tradition I worked as a bouncer/security officer/crowd control supervisor – we were called various names – at the Uni Bar/Refectory and at other nightclub establishments in Civic.

Where did you live?

I lived initially and spent a great three years on Daley Road at Bruce Hall (I say to the Vice Chancellor, Save Bruce Hall!), where I met lifelong friends and made a number of lifelong memories. It remains one of the most enjoyable and memorable periods of my life. During my second stint in the 90s I lived in Gungahlin, specifically in Nicholls, which although a bit of a trek into ANU was just as enjoyable.

What was the biggest political issue affecting you and your mates when you were at ANU and what were your views on that issue? 

For me personally and my mates, the biggest political issue was the Mabo Case; the legal arguments being posited in the lead up to its final adjudication (during my stint in the 80s); and the decision itself, its legal reasoning and the impacts and ramifications it was having on Australian constitutional law jurisprudence (during my second stint in the mid-90s). We were all in endorsement of the decision – particularly in the way it dealt with the legal principle of Terra Nullius and the implications this had for indigenous land rights.

Do you have a favourite ANU lecturer or researcher and what was it that you liked about her/him? 

My favourite lecturer was Professor Michael Coper. I am sure many ANU alumni who have gone through ANU Law School have answered similarly for similar reasons. Mine were that he made often very complex concepts interesting, relevant and appealing to what was often a large group of fidgety, sleep deprived, twenty-somethings who had not yet made a concrete decision to pursue a career in law long term. As someone who had already decided, he served to reinforce my decision and prove to myself that I had made the correct one.

If you had your time over again, would you still come to ANU and study what you did?

Most definitely yes, on both counts. My time at ANU, during both stints, remain as some of the most enjoyable and rewarding of my life and have stood me in good stead for both my traditional role as a Tongan noble, as well as my professional role as a barrister & solicitor and more recently a Member of Parliament.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your ANU student self?

My main advice would be if you must spend time at the local pub or club mid-week, keep it to a minimum and get your reading and assignments done beforehand or you won’t get them done. We have a tendency at ANU to do just enough to get by, when excelling is what we’re there for.

What role should Australia have in the Pacific and do you think it is fulfilling that role now? 

I think since the Keating government, more so or less so in succeeding administrations, Australia sensibly reassessed its position globally and regionally and recognised that it had more in common and was a part of the Asia-Pasifika family rather than of the continental north. This seemed to impact on the role it has played in the Pacific, becoming more and more a partner and cooperative sibling in the Pasifika family, rather than trying to merely mimic the colonial practices of the continental north.

There is a small Pasifika community at ANU, including Tongan students, and it is widely known that your king’s daughter attended here. What is it about ANU that attracts Tongan students? 

Not only is ANU one of the best universities in the world, and the premiere tertiary institution in our region, it is also a multicultural and multiethnic university that offers a breadth and richness of experience that is appealing to a Tongan scholar. It provides more than just a sound academically founded education, but a holistic, well-rounded, character building and defining one. I think ANU offers this experience in abundance and in a unique manner. Apart from which in the case of HRH [King Tupou VI’s daughter] as with many others, it is a matter of having impeccable taste I guess!