Gemma Horstmann

Native Title
Winter 2016

This winter I had the wonderful opportunity to take part in the Aurora Internship Program. The Program facilitates internships for legal, anthropology and some social science students and graduates at various Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs), Prescribed Bodies Corporate and other organisations working to support the Indigenous sector, around the country. I interned for 6 weeks in the Perth offices at Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) and then at Goldfields Land and Sea Council (GLSC), both NTRBs. Prior to starting my internship I had a basic understanding of the native title process and the role of NTRBs in assisting Indigenous people in bringing native title claims. What I had not realised, however, was how complex and varied the work which NTRBs perform daily is. As such, you will find not just lawyers at NTRBs, but also anthropologists, archaeologists, archivists, community liaison staff and finance and business development staff. It is because of this variety and range of people that makes working at a NTRB such an interesting and rewarding opportunity.

GLSC represents Indigenous claimants in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. It is the principal voice for Aboriginal people from the region on matters to do with land and waters, governance, social and economic development, heritage and other matters of justice. The head office of GLSC is located in Kalgoorlie and so the Perth office by comparison is a small and close-knit team (13 people). My time at GLSC was a valuable experience made all the more so because of my two supervisors. Right from the start they endeavoured to make the internship a positive learning experience, asking what I wanted to get out of the internship and always taking the time to explain each task in detail and advise of relevant background information.

The tasks I undertook at GLSC were mostly researched-based but varied in their area of law. For example, researching whether a native title ‘right to invite’ can be claimed, researching an Indigenous corporation’s obligations under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006, federal court procedure and also legal professional obligations. Other tasks included compiling a table of employment contract provisions, editing and formatting an employment contract, locating cases at the Supreme Court library, working on a chronology of a claim group, and also filing tasks related to the return of claim group documents.

A major task was researching National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) determinations of ‘future act’ applications. A future act is any use of land or waters that affects native title, for example a mining or prospecting licence. The Native Title Act 1993 provides that a ‘Right to negotiate’ applies, which involves mandatory negotiation followed (if agreement is not reached) by a decision of the NNTT about whether to permit the activity. When conducting my research at GLSC I discovered that the NNTT has only ever decided three times (out of almost 100 determinations) that an activity must not be done, despite the wishes of the native title holders or claimants. From such research tasks, and also from informal chats with my supervisors, I learned a great deal about native title, the problems inherent within the system, and how other interests (mainly mining in WA) largely overrides the wishes of Indigenous peoples. For me, it reinforced how important organisations such as NTRBs are and the work that they do.

I gained valuable practical work experience and met some amazing people during my two internships. I learnt a lot not just about native title, but also important legal research and drafting skills. Such skills I know will be invaluable in any career path. That is why I would recommend the Aurora Internship Program to other students and graduates. It definitely is a wonderful opportunity.