Gemma - 2010 Graduate Program



Home State: New South Wales
University: University of Sydney, Sydney College of the Arts
Qualifications:Bachelor of Visual Arts in Object Art and Design
Bachelor of Visual Arts (1st Honours)

They used to call me the "Renaissance woman" in the teacher's staff room at high school because I was strong in science, maths, english and art. It seemed to me that to be in the graduate program in the then Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts would cover all my subjects of interest, and would possibly expose me to even more.

Before the graduate program, I worked in private enterprise, customer service and in China on a 5 month internship with a prominent artist, designer and businessman. I moved to Canberra in 2008 with my husband (then fiancé) for him to pursue masters study. I started working in government basically to pay our rent and expected a world of boring repetitive work in a conservative and stale environment, I couldn't have been more wrong!

Almost three years later I am still working in government, a testimony to the incredibly diverse, interesting, passionate, and intelligent people I have worked with on a huge variety of projects. The graduate program has been a whirlwind of learning and has provided me challenging work experiences that have greatly developed my strengths and capacity as a public servant.


First Placement: Scientific Research and Information Section (Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF), Policy and Communications Division

I landed in this placement at the point the team had discovered their deadline for the replacement CERF program - the NERP - had been brought forward by 3 months! It was a very busy rotation with the following being my main achievements:

  • Writing a Governance and communications paper on the role of the NERP in line with departmental policy on biodiversity.
  • Forming the Future CERF Advisory Committee.
  • Compiling and rolling out the NERP website and advertising.

Second Placement: Arts Policy Section, Arts Division

This was an exciting rotation for me as I got to revisit the world of arts. The Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy (VACS) funding had just been confirmed in the budget as ongoing for the next four years. It was a great policy rotation with the following being my main achievements:

  • Writing a Discussion Paper for consideration by States and Territories on the upcoming funding of VACS - including policy scoping with the director and assistant director.
  • Briefs - lots of briefs! But in particular, briefing the minister on the Cooper Superannuation Review to inform his meetings with the arts sector on this contentious matter.

Third Placement: Monitoring and Auditing Section (MAS), Approvals and Wildlife division (AWD)

I wanted to experience the environmental legislation arm of the department as I had been interested by AWD's work on the Melbourne Strategic Assessment and Hawke Review. MAS is an extremely busy section and could have a large part to play in the Hawke Review recommendation of more auditing required. My main body of work in the section was:

  • Project Manager of the MAS Workload Analysis project, assessing how the section can achieve its work targets with its limited resources and ever increasing project transferrals.
  • Post approval monitoring (including a site visit to Tasmania) and approval of Environmental Management Plans.
  • Drafting a conservation agreement under the EPBC Act.

Final Placement: Environmental Assessments Branch 3, Victoria and Tasmania Section, AWD

I now work on environmental impact assessments, protecting nationally listed threatened species and ecological communities from impacts of development. My main work is:

  • Assessing referrals made under the EPBC Act to statutory deadlines
  • Drafting legal conditions for developments that impact on matters of National Environmental Significance and making recommendations to the delegate and/or minister.

'the best thing about working for us ... is the environment'