Lidija Bujanovic, Laura Neill and Andrew Brooks took part in the 2014 summer legal internship program at the ALRC, working on the Disbaility inquiry and the review of the Native Title Act. In this recording they talk about their experiences, tasks they performed, and what they learned as ALRC legal interns.
Marie-Claire Muir (MCM): Hi. I’m Marie-Claire Muir. I’m the Communications Manager at the Australian Law Reform Commission. I’m talking today with three interns who have been with us full time for three weeks for the summer legal internship program. We have Laura, Lidija and Andrew with us today. Today is their last day with us, so hopefully it’s a good time to have a chat about how you’ve found the whole experience. Now I’ll ask each of you to first give our listeners maybe a little bit of background about yourselves … what uni you’re at, where you are in your studies, and maybe you could tell us what it was that got you interested in doing an internship with the Law Reform Commission.
Laura Neill (LN): Hi. My name’s Laura Neil and I’m a 4th-year Arts/Law student from the University of Queensland. What drew me to the ALRC is, as university students would know, we look through a lot of law reports throughout our assignments, and it always intrigued me, the process behind law reform, and I really appreciated the clarity and insight I gained from reading these reports. So when I found the internship, I thought I’d apply.
Lidija Bujanovic (LB): Hi. My name’s Lidija Bujanovic. I am in my final year now of a JD at the University of Melbourne. I decided to apply for this internship because I’ve worked in public policy for a couple of years and when I was working in that area I found law reform issues came up a lot. That’s one of the things that drew me to a law degree, and then I realised the Law Reform Commission ran internships and I thought I’d like to be involved.
Andrew Brooks (AB): Hi. My name is Andrew Brooks. I’m in my last year of a law degree at Monash University in Melbourne this year. So I’ve only got a year to go. The reason I wanted to do an ALRC internship was that the more I learnt about laws the more issues I saw that potentially needed fixing, and the effect it can have on some minority groups I always thought was quite unjust. So I liked the idea of contributing in some small small way to alleviating some of those concerns. So when I saw that the ALRC did internships I thought it would be a good taste tester for reform and I could give that a crack.
MCM: Great. Thanks for that. Now, the ALRC has three inquiries on the go at the moment, which is unusual for us. We’ve got Disability, and Native Title, and Serious Invasions of Privacy. And you guys have I believe been working on Native Title and Disability … yep. So, what our prospective interns are always keen to know is what kind of task they’ll be doing, so perhaps if you can tell us what tasks you have been working on, maybe in the context of where the Inquiry is at.
LN: So, Lidija and I have been involved in the Native Title Inquiry. We’re currently working towards releasing an Issues Paper on 17 March, so we’ve been involved in lots of preliminary research and meetings.
LB: We’ve actually been fortunate enough to go along to some of the questions workshops and scoping, before the questions are taken to an Advisory Committee. It’s been really interesting to be in a position where we can listen to the big-picture discussions as well as doing some of the nitty gritty research on what the case law actually says about certain issues, for example whether there has been substantial interruption and how that’s defined, so there’s been a lot of detailed work and then also the opportunity to think about where it all fits.
AB: With the Disability Inquiry, we’re a bit further along than Native Title. We’ve released our Issues Paper and we’re working on the Discussion Paper. So most of the things I’ve been doing are research memos. I did one trying to track the UNCRPD, which is an acronym for a definitely longer word …
… and I was tracking the changes to Article 12 which deals with capacity and especially with supported decision making and substituted decision making, which is important to this Inquiry. And then I’ve done some other research tasks on comparing legislations in terms of indefinite detention for people with mental illness, or ways people can vote in different legislations with a specific regard to people with disability, which is fascinating. And doing a few briefing memos for different consultations and I did some research on people we were going to meet to try and work out some of the questions before we get there, so people are not just frantically trying to think of something at the time. That’s been most of what I’ve been doing. The consultations, I’ve been to a couple. I went to one with an academic at Sydney Law, and also with another big body, the Mental Health Commission, which has been fascinating as well.
MCM: Yeah, it often seems to be a highlight for interns when they get to go on consultations. Of course it’s not possible … you know, it depends what point the Inquiry is at whether that happens. Any … would you like to talk about how it was working with the teams that you were in, like I imagine you would have gone along to team meetings and things like that?
LN: Something I found here at the ALRC is that there is an excellent work environment. Everyone was very welcoming at the Commission and has pointed us to great lunch spots, taken us out for after-work drinks, which has really made, I believe, all the interns feel really comfortable. And I think that helps with our work quality, when we’re not nervous and we’re happy.
LB: Yes, I would agree with that. Everybody has just been incredibly approachable and it’s actually just been a lot of fun. And we’ve been involved with every stage of the team work, even in consultations that are held over the phone, there’ll be five of us squeezing into the room and it’s really just for us to be able to listen and hear about what’s going on, and it’s really nice to be included in all of that.
AB: Yeah, it’s been almost identical in the Disability Inquiry. Every time there is a team meeting they always invite me to go along, and the President even asked for my opinion sometimes, which is quite scary …
LB & LN: Yes! [Laughter]
AB: … but good as well. It just shows how welcoming people can be. Yeah, so it’s been very involved and the team I’m working with is always trying to take me out for coffees, and tell me about the issues, a lot of the issues were quite new to me …
MCM: It doesn’t sound like you were all working hard enough!
AB: [Laughing] Not at all. I could get used to this.
AB: I just pretend to be dumb and they explain things over coffee.
AB: But no, it’s been great. A lot of the issues are quite new to me, especially dealing with capacity for mental illness, for example. It’s something I’d never really read about, and they’ve definitely been keen to tell me about what’s been going on in the issue and explain certain things, explaining acronyms as well—there’s always a tough one. But no, they’ve been great and they’ve been really supportive.
MCM: Fantastic. And, the question we almost always finish on, what would you say has been the highlight of your internship?
LN: The highlight for me has definitely been seeing the process of the Inquiry over the three weeks, As Lidija said, we’ve been to consultations, questions workshops, team meetings, while completing research tasks. We’ve had coffee dates, drinks, we’ve really felt like a part of the team and I have a really grounded understanding of how the whole law reform process operates, which has been great practical insight for me.
LB: Yeah, I agree. I think one of the big things for me was the feeling that I’ve actually contributed to the work, that it’s appreciated by our supervisors, but also that we’re doing something that might actually lead to some law reform in the end. That’s been really great.
AB: Probably the highlight for me is to see lawyers that are actually happy to do the work they do.
AB: I’ve worked with a lot that seem to be just doing their job, and they’ve just been doing it for so long and they just want to keep doing it because it’s comfortable. Whereas people here seem to be really passionate about what they do. And they come from such a diverse background—it’s interesting to see how they all gravitate towards law reform at this stage of their career. So it’s been great to see the enthusiasm. They’ve been great role models and motivation to keep trying at law because that’s something they like. I think that’s really motivating.
MCM: That’s fantastic. Thank you very much for taking part in this podcast, and for being interns at the ALRC. It’s been great having you and we wish you all the best in your future legal endeavours!
LN, LB, AB: Thank you.