Magda Hughes

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Legal
Sector: 
Justice Agencies
Location: 
Darwin
Round: 
Winter 2014

In winter 2014, I undertook an Aurora Internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). NAAJA is the Aboriginal legal aid service for the top end of the Northern Territory. The Civil law section deals with a wide range of matters, including complaints about government services, alcohol mandatory treatment orders, discrimination and family law. I was placed with the Welfare Rights team, a specialised team of solicitors within the Civil section.

The Welfare Rights solicitors assist clients by appealing debts, helping client’s find income management exemptions, consumer complaints and dealing with basics card issues. They also assist with remote tenancy issues, including terminations, repairs, disability modifications and priority housing applications.

As each of these areas was explained to me on my first day, I quickly realised how much I didn’t know. My brain was eager to soak up all of this new information. Over the next few weeks, I attended court, tribunal hearings and client appointments, all the time filling in my understanding of the laws and their application to clients. It was exciting to be surrounded by passionate and intelligent lawyers who were always happy to explain new things to me.

NAAJA is a very supportive organisation to do an internship with.

The lawyers were mindful of giving me a mixture of different kinds of work, mixing up reading over large documents with attending meetings of client appointments. The work remained constantly interesting, rewarding and diverse. Tasks that might otherwise seem like dry work in another law firm, such as drafting a file closure letter, provided an opportunity to read over a file and learn more about the kinds of matters that clients come to NAAJA with and how we can assist them.

Some highlights include the opportunity to visit remote communities in Tiwi Islands, Oenpelli and Jabiru, and helping preparation for a trial. Visiting the communities was a great chance to help fill in the picture of how living in a community impacts on legal matters. Visiting communities is an important way for NAAJA to reach out to clients who might not otherwise know about their legal rights and options. Another highlight was assisting a lawyer to prepare for a trial, through legal research and role-play cross-examination. It was especially exciting to see so many things I had learnt throughout my degree finally being used in a practical setting. Finally, it was great to see the holistic approach NAAJA takes, addressing the client's short term needs, long term needs and ongoing problems in the legal system.

Apart from the engaging work at NAAJA, Darwin is a great place to be based. It is a small city with a lot happening and many beautiful places near by. I felt a strong sense of community and was never short of choices for things to do.

My internship with NAAJA was a huge learning experience. I learned about history, politics, culture and the law. As always, it was the kind and interesting people that completed the experience, as I got to know clients, colleagues and other interns. This was an enriching experience and certainly 6 of the best weeks I have ever had.

I highly recommend doing an Aurora internship to any Law, Anthropology or Social Science student. Applications are open every March and August on-line via the website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/nativetitleinternshipprogram. For more information on The Aurora Native Title Internship Program, see www.auroraproject.com.au.