I completed an 8 week internship with the South Australian Native Title Service (SANTS) as part of the Aurora Internship Program. SANTS are a Native title service provider, delivering a range of services that contribute to securing social, cultural, and economic outcomes for Aboriginal people – including the recognition of native title rights and interests.
My knowledge and understanding of the Native Title Act 1993, and its role in establishing a legal framework for Indigenous groups to make applications for the recognition of native title was theoretically, relatively broad. However, the unique opportunity afforded by the Aurora Project in collaboration with SANTS, furthered my practical legal experience and exposed me to the process of achieving equitable and lasting arrangements for the co-existence of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal rights and interests.
In South Australia, perhaps more than other jurisdictions, there has been a commitment to resolving native title claims through negotiation and consent rather than litigation. Consequently, there have been 16 consent determinations, including 9 in the last 3 years. This new climate has expanded the role of SANTS to involve delivering post-determination native title services, particularly through assisting native title corporations to hold and manage native title, and deliver sustainable outcomes for their communities.
In my role as legal intern, I was primarily involved in activities pertaining to corporate governance, administration and compliance, community and business planning, economic development, agreement implementation, and land and cultural heritage management – as it related to Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) and Aboriginal Corporations established with respect to native title claims or Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs). My involvement extended from legal research to preparation for and attendance to Case Management Conferences in the Federal Court. I also attended negotiations and conciliations between native title claimant groups, the State, mining companies, local councils, and other interested parties.
The highlight of my internship was accompanying the team to Alice Springs and parts of northern South Australia. During this trip I travelled to the Iwantja Community on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the north west of South Australia. This was a unique experience. I attended a number of Director’s Meetings and Annual General Meetings held on country. I was able to speak with claimants about, not only their legal concerns, but also their tradition, custom and culture. I was given a high level of responsibility and my contribution was significantly valued.
This opportunity expanded my knowledge of good governance, capacity strengthening necessity within the native title system, and the importance of ensuring that PBCs manage native title benefits into the future, evaluate their statutory responsibilities, and respond appropriately to agreement opportunities. I learnt that these factors are crucial to the autonomy and empowerment of Indigenous community-level organisations. From my experience, the post determination environment continues to demand ongoing participation from native title lawyers in supporting the capacity issues faced by PBCs and registered native title bodies corporate.
I cannot recommend participating in the Aurora Internship Program highly enough. The challenging and mentally stimulating environment provided at SANTS will broaden your ability to think laterally and give you practical experience – a fundamental stepping stone in the journey towards qualification