I did my Aurora placement at the Darwin office of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) as part of the Aurora Internship Program. NAAJA has separate sections which undertake criminal work, civil work and community education respectively. I was placed in the civil section, which was a great opportunity to assist with a wide cariety of matter by performing a range of taks.
Sometimes, of course, I did other, less glamourous duties like photocopying or prointing documents, and organising them into folders - but these things are a necessary part of NAAJA's legal work, and taking them on meant that the solicitors (who have a very heavy workload) would have time freed up to work on other thing which I, as an intern, wasn't qualified to do. I consider it a privilege to have been able to assist in NAAJA;s work, and to benefit from the advice and experience of the lawyers there; and there was ample opportunity to do other things as well.
Legal research was a significant part of my work at NAAJA, but I also assisted by fact-finding and writing. For one thing, advising clients and/or preparing for liigation required a sound understanding of the factual background, and that in turn requires some good, old-fashioned detective work, like compiling a chronology of events from police radio recordings or security camera footage, or even locating a long-fogotten bank account. These kinds of fact-finding tasks trained me in patience, thoroughness and attention to detail. I also deafted correspondence to and on behlaf of clients, including many closing lettters which summarised NAAJA's legal advice, the work we had done, and the outcome of that work. This was a great way to practice explaining relevanty facts and legal concept in plain, concise english, an essential skill in any legal or law-related workplace.
In addition to these opportunities to practice my legal workplace skills, I also took away some personal inspiration:
• Be challenged by the scale of the inequality. Prior to undertaking the Aurora internship, I had never doubted the disadvantage of Indigenous Australians. But my experiences at NAAJA Darwin brought home the reality that Indigenous disadvantage isn’t just a sad statistic, it’s something experienced by many Australians just going about their everyday business. For example, NAAJA assisted one man to make a complaint to the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission when a liquor store refused to serve him, but offered to serve his non-Indigenous partner. Other clients experienced the kind of disadvantage arising from other factors such as poverty, institutionalisation or residence in a remote community - factors which are distinct from, yet related to, their Indigeneity. Although experiences will vary from person to person, every Indigenous Australian will have their own distinct stories of discrimination or disadvantage.
• Be encouraged that every little helps. Once you’ve realised the daunting scale of Indigenous disadvantage, you may very well feel discouraged. How on earth, you ask yourself, can we cure this malaise of inequality? But the work of Aboriginal legal aid organisations like NAAJA is important because inequality can be challenged, and the unequal system can be changed - one case at a time. Working at NAAJA showed me that legal aid can significantly benefit clients; not only does it make for better possible outcomes, but the clients can feel a little more confident knowing that NAAJA is in their corner. Furthermore, while individual clients may not succeed, the accumulation of similar cases can lead to systemic change. While at NAAJA, I wrote many letters of complaint to the Northern Territory Ombudsman and to the Northern Territory Police Commissioner, as well as closing letters to clients who NAAJA had previously assisted to make a complaint. My supervisor told me that although in many cases the Ombudsman or the Commissioner would decline to take further action, building up a body of complaints on particular issues might later trigger an inquiry or investigation, opening up the possibility of systemic change that would benefit Indigenous people across the Northern Territory.
• Be inspired to contribute towards a more equal future. Organisations like NAAJA, which are specifically intended to facilitate access to legal representation for Indigenous Australians, thus fulfil two important roles: they assist individuals in the present, and document the need for change in the future. I feel privileged to have assisted NAAJA in this important work, and I was inspired by the passion and dedication of the lawyers, Client Service Officers, interpreters and others that I met and worked with. My experience at NAAJA has strengthened my resolve to pursue a career in activist lawyering.
If you have an interest for social justice and wondering what you can do to help make a difference, I encourage you to apply for an Aurora internship. On a pragmatic level, you’ll get to hone your legal research and writing skills, while gaining exposure to the legal workplace environment. On a personal level, it’s a satisfying and fulfilling way to put your skills, your knowledge and your energy at the disposal of a worthy cause.
More information on the Aurora Internship Program can be found in their website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/what_is_an_Aurora_internship.
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.