My November and December was spent in Darwin interning with the Civil Law section of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) as part of the Aurora Internship Program. Whilst a short article would never be able to adequately capture my entire experience, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on and share my greatest learning experiences.
I discovered how little I really knew about the legal issues faced by the Indigenous population, especially in the Northern Territory. Working with the Civil team gave me a great introduction, and I became aware of the subtle language and cultural factors that disadvantaged Indigenous citizens have in their interactions with the Australian legal system. For example, the inability to communicate with doctors and law enforcement officials was often the catalyst to issues and subsequent claims in intentional tort. As another example, the economic vulnerability of many Indigenous citizens often makes them a victim of predatory business behaviour. Whilst exposure to news and current affairs may provide some knowledge of broader issues of policy, NAAJA made me aware of how vulnerable Indigenous clients interacted with the legal system day-to-day.
I developed a great appreciation for the passion and dedication of lawyers in the community sector working in the Northern Territory. Lawyers in the Civil team managed immense caseloads, and were able to balance their commitments in Darwin with their trips out to remote communities. This was coupled with their tremendous resilience in the face of what was often difficult subject matter, and great patience in negotiating the cultural and language boundaries. Even where clients were unresponsive or failing to follow advice, lawyers demonstrated dedication and a willingness to help.
My exposure to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory made me aware of its rigour and of the work involved in its operation. NAAJA, and the community legal sector in the Northern Territory more broadly, were extensively involved, creating an immense workload amongst the lawyers, with many hours of work going into every submission to the Royal Commission. I discovered first hand how lawyers, who normally managed individual clients and cases, played a critical role in influencing broader questions of policy.
Finally, I discovered that an organisation like NAAJA is comprised of much more than just the lawyers. Client service officers provided invaluable support, completing administrative tasks and accompanying lawyers on trips to remove communities. In addition, the Law and Justice team played an important role by liaising with the remote communities and ensuring that citizens had access to the services offered by NAAJA. Even as an intern I felt like I had an important role to play in completing various tasks for lawyers, alleviating time pressure and freeing up time for the more difficult and pressing tasks.