Tanya Shankar

Native Title
Summer 2013

I undertook my six week legal placement as part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with the South Australian Native Services [SANTS] during the summer 2012/13 round. SANTS is a Native Title Services Provider (NTSP) which is able to perform all the roles and functions of a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) as prescribed by s203FE of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth).

I would highly recommend that students and recent graduates apply for the Aurora Internship Program because the skills and knowledge to be attained are invaluable and life-long.

Having previously not studied native title in much detail at University prior to commencing my internship, I initially was under the impression that this area of the law was heavily shaped by Property law concepts. However, I found it to be a beneficial learning experience to observe how it is interdependent upon many legal disciplines including Mining, Administrative and Corporate Law. It was particularly worthwhile in discovering how the theoretical skills I had attained throughout my law studies were critically relevant in the various tasks I was requested to work on.
Attending case management conferences in the Federal Court of Australia and negotiation meetings within the Crown Solicitor’s Office gave me valuable practical insights into the procedural steps involved in attaining a determination of native title which I found useful in expanding my knowledge of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and of the current litigation matters SANTS is currently involved in.

I enjoyed studying Corporate Law in university, which is why being afforded opportunities such as drafting a constitution for a proposed Aboriginal Corporation as well as attending an Annual General Meeting and directors’ meetings, were experiences which stood out for me. This has significantly placed my theoretical understanding regarding this area into perspective, which I am appreciative of.
A further highlight of my internship was being able to participate in the “good faith” negotiation process in finalising the terms of a Native Title Mining Agreement between a native title claimant group and a mining company. One of my roles here was to prepare and deliver a presentation to the Management Committee of this claimant group, with the purpose of informing them of the notable terms of this draft agreement. My public speaking skills were tested through this, and it was rewarding in being able to aid in furthering the Management Committee’s understanding of this agreement. This experience overall has been valuable because it enabled me to observe how the “good faith” statutory requirement to negotiate in these circumstances were reflective of the effective negotiation strategies employed and the beneficial outcomes reached by each party.

My writing skills were also tested and developed immensely throughout the course of my internship, whereby I was involved in drafting pieces such as native title case summary updates, legal letters and memorandums on various research questions including exploring the recent proposals before Parliament dealing with the income tax implications of “native title benefits”.

What I’ve mentioned here does not even begin to describe the entirety of the work I undertook during the course of my Aurora internship with SANTS, which is why I would highly encourage those students who are interested in native title and are serious to make a difference in the community, to apply for this eye-opening opportunity.

My experiences as a whole have made me appreciate the work lawyers specialising in native title do, because, as I observed, the work is complex and requires hard work in order to achieve successful outcomes for the client. What I have taken from this internship is that practicing in this area is a highly rewarding career. It is the people you meet, the outcomes you can achieve, and the difference you know you are making to the lives of Indigenous Australians, whom are navigating through the complex Native Title Act process, which makes it all worth it. It has definitely made me re-evaluate my career aspirations, to consider working in native title as a certain possibility.