n the final year of my straight law degree at the University of Tasmania, I applied for an internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program. I felt the Program matched my human rights and social justice inclinations perfectly, and I was right!
I was lucky enough to intern at the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) in Sydney and really valued the opportunity to get some practical work experience. I worked in the National Registration team of the NNTT, which I quickly learnt has a pretty niche function. I was supervised by a delegate and spent a fair bit of my time learning about the work involved in registration testing native title determination applications.
What is Registration testing and what exactly does a Registrar’s delegate do?
Native title determination applications are filed in the Federal Court and referred to the Native Title Registrar (or more typically, a delegate appointed by the Registrar) to apply the test set out in the Native Title Act 1993. If the application passes all of the conditions, it must be accepted for registration and details of the application are recorded on Register of Native Title Claims. The implications of the registration test in the entire Native Title determination process are fairly important. If an application is accepted for registration, then the native title claim group gets some important rights, like the right to negotiate with others about the grant of some mining tenements in relation to the area covered by the application, and certain other procedural rights while their claim is pending. However, even if an application is not accepted for registration, the question of determining whether Native Title rights and interests exist is still up to the Federal Court.
The delegate’s function is a government decision-making one, so Administrative Law principles apply. Also, the delegate’s role is very much defined by the Native Title Act and relevant case law. Working with the team responsible for registration testing native title determination applications was really educational, but I should note that given the nature of the delegate’s function and recent Federal Court policy shifts—there are very few opportunities for interaction with claimants, facilitating mediation or attending Federal Court proceedings.
What I got to do
That being said, my time at the NNTT was by no means boring. I got to interact with the Case Management team, learn about the geospatial (mapping) functions of the tribunal and apply those skills in relation to registration testing, visit NTSCORP, attend a Federal Court call over of native title matters, attend training on Indigenous Land Use Agreements and visit several educational events outside of the office.
In my first week I was shocked at how little I actually knew about Native Title law. I had to familiarise myself with relevant provisions of the Native Title Act and get my head around what exactly a Registrar’s delegate even does. What I loved most about my time at the NNTT was that everyone was amazingly gracious and went out of their way to explain things to me. My supervisor in particular spent a lot of time with me in registration test training and going over my attempts at drafting a registration test decision. Every member of the staff was amazingly supportive and I never once felt like anyone was too busy for my questions or unwilling to help. I felt I really got the luxury of learning through one-to-one sessions with NNTT staff, rather than being stuck with a heap of administrative tasks or having to answer phones all day.
The spirit of collegiality within the NNTT was fantastic and I really loved that I was made to feel part of the team. During my month at the NNTT, I got to attend several morning teas, a fantastic lunch celebrating the launch of the NNTT Reconciliation Action Plan, staff meetings, Federal Court lunchtime yoga classes and even some NAIDOC events.
Overall, I have attained a breadth of knowledge of the Native Title system that I never had before, some good friends, sound career and life advice, work experience in a fantastic environment and a whole month of living in an exciting new city.
I would recommend the Aurora Native Title Internship Program to anyone looking for an enriching experience during their university break. Applications for the summer 2013-2014 round are now open and close Friday 23rd August. For more information on becoming an Aurora intern, go to www.auroraproject.com.au.