During November/December of 2015 I was selected to undertake an Aurora Internship within the Legal stream as part of the Aurora Internship Program. I was placed at the National Native Title Tribunal [NNTT] in Perth where I stayed with my family for the four week duration of my internship. The NNTT is an independent agency comprised of a President and Members who are appointed by the Governor General under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (‘NTA’). The NNTT works to solve problems in line with the vision of the Tribunal, which is: ‘shared country, shared future’. Some of the work involved in the day-to-day operations at the Tribunal includes conducting inquiries, reviews and mediations, decision making, and assisting parties with native title applications and Indigenous Land Use Agreements (commonly referred to as ILUAs).
The internship experience:
During the application and interview process, I was advised not to have very high expectations going into the internship and to expect a healthy balance of challenging as well as some mundane and repetitive work. This did not faze me as I was simply happy to be assisting in an area that is over-worked and under resourced, and to learn as much as I possibly could!
On the first day of the internship, I arrived at the Native Title office which is located in the Commonwealth Law Courts in Perth. Firstly, I was shown to my work area which was a large desk with a two-screen computer set-up, situated next to a window with a lovely view of the Swan River. Afterwards, I was given a tour of the Court building and NNTT offices where I was able to meet the Tribunal staff and learn about the area they worked in. Everyone was welcoming and friendly and offered to lend a helping hand at any time during my placement. Later that afternoon, I met my supervisor, Lisa – the Principal Advisor, Practice and Legislation. This is when I was given my very first task to complete. I was required to conduct some legal research and compare the fee waiver process within various Court jurisdictions and Tribunals. Lisa had requested that I put all of this information into a Memo so that she could later use it for a project she was working on. At first, I was nervous as I had never put together a Memo but after looking at some past examples, I deeply engrossed myself into the task at hand, and completed it.
My next task was quite a large one which involved sorting through a legal opinions database and categorising the information accordingly – whether it was relevant, required updating or outdated. There were almost 700 documents in this database and many of them dated back to the late 90s. At first the task was quite daunting, but over the weeks I was able to break it down and make some amendments to the database that have hopefully been useful to the NNTT staff.
During my four weeks at the NNTT, I scheduled in phone conferences and meetings with various staff at the Tribunal so I could learn more about their role and their past experiences with native title. I made time to talk with the Research Director and Practice Managers, and accompanied Case Leaders to the preliminary and status conferences that are held via phone. These conferences are intended to monitor the progress between native title groups and mining companies as to whether they intend to negotiate, or whether the matter needs to proceed to another stage of the process such as an inquiry.My placement at the NNTT was the first time I have ever been exposed to native title outside of my University studies and I felt that there was a lot to be learned. Initially, I was provided with a hard copy of the NTA as well as an organisational chart of the NNTT so I was able to see all of the different teams and areas that the NNTT comprises of. Lisa had put together a presentation with the main points of information such as the role of the NNTT, Tribunal staff and structure, the native title claims process and information regarding the key sections of the NTA. In addition, Lisa provided some background as to her experience in the area of native title over the years; including cases that she has worked on, as well as many challenges that she has faced along the way. This provided me with a really good foundation and understanding of the Tribunal and the NTA.
While I was on placement, I observed native title matters that were being heard in Court which involved Counsel discussing issues relating to connection to land, anthropological evidence of site-specific stories and the possible loss of connection due to the movement of the claim group. I attended a case management conference regarding the overlap of a certain native title claim area which was held before a Deputy Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia. During the final week of my internship, I was invited to attend a demonstration given by the NNTT of a web-based tenure portal that the Tribunal has developed to assist parties with achieving tenure certainty by facilitating collaborative data sharing and visually depicting the tenure/extinguishment position in relation to native title claims.
How I benefitted from the experience:
The Aurora placement has been extremely beneficial in improving my legal research skills and enhancing my knowledge in the area of native title; where my exposure at University had been very limited. My placement at the NNTT has equipped me with a greater understanding of the application of various sections of the NTA during native title proceedings and a clearer comprehension of the role of the Tribunal.
This experience has vastly increased my passion and enthusiasm for the area of native title and I strongly encourage anyone with an interest to take the opportunity to complete an Aurora Internship.
Please visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram for details on how to apply. Applications for the upcoming winter 2016 round of internships will be open from 9am AEDT Monday 7th March through 5pm AEDT Friday 1st April 2016.