Katherine - 2012 Graduate Program

Home state

  • New South Wales


  • The University of New South Wales
  • Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico


  • Bachelor of Laws
  • B International Studies (Development Studies)
  • Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice


After finishing my law degree, I knew that I didn’t want to work in a commercial law firm and therefore decided to try out the public service.
My background in international studies is strongly related to work within the Department, as much of my study focused on sustainable development. The Department aims to make environmental decisions that recognise the interdependence of the environment with our economy and society. Combined with my upbringing and interest in environmental issues, this made me feel that the Department’s graduate program would be a great way to start my career and develop a broad range of skills and provide me with the additional great opportunities offered as part of the program.


First Rotation — Water Holdings Section, Commonwealth Environmental Water Office

The Water Holdings Section is part of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office. The Water Holdings Section’s primary role is to manage the Commonwealth’s portfolio of environmental water and to give effect to water trading and use decisions made by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to ensure environmental benefit to water dependent ecosystems.

While finding my feet in my first rotation in the Department I was exposed to a variety of work, and was given a lot of support and made to feel very welcome. In addition to assisting with the day-to-day management of the water holdings and the preparation of decision minutes for the trade and use of water entitlements, one of my main tasks in this rotation was to assist with the procurement of a new Environmental Water Management System to assess, administer and track water use and associated environmental outcomes. Being involved in this project helped me to learn about the government’s procurement policy and exposed me to the Department’s corporate functions necessary for work throughout the Department.

The other main area of my work during this rotation was to explore and assess alternative delivery options for Commonwealth environmental watering across the Murray-Darling Basin, to ensure the most effective and efficient delivery of environmental water. The policy paper I developed that explored these options was presented for consideration to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and plans are under way to implement these options. Due to the complexity of trade and water use rules across the different jurisdictions, this was a challenging, but rewarding task.

Second Rotation - Legal Section, Policy and Communications Division

The Legal Section provides legal advice to the Department on matters ranging from contracts for procuring products or services, to specific line-area queries about their activities. This exposed me to the work of all areas of the Department and their activities, and allowed me to learn more about the breadth of work undertaken across the Department’s portfolio.

The variety of work and responsibility I was given was surprising and really rewarding - I drafted legal advice on a wide range of matters including assisting with the procurement of the new Antarctic icebreaker to replace the Aurora Australis, assisting with litigation, and prosecution and compliance issues, and providing advice on activities and developments that were set to impact on dolphins and other cetaceans, migratory species and a range of other listed species and vulnerable ecosystems.

Third Rotation — Legislation and Regulation Policy Section, Regulatory Reform Taskforce

The Regulatory Reform Taskforce is responsible for implementing the Government's reforms to national environment law and policies by amending the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Legislation and Regulation Policy Section’s role is to enable the efficient and effective operation of the EPBC Act and to deliver and support projects that are part of the reform package.

During my rotation I was responsible for providing strategic policy coordination and advice on a range of sensitive development applications with the potential to impact on a range of vulnerable species and ecosystems. Along with the provision of policy advice, I also developed a guidance manual on publication requirements under the EPBC Act. Combined with my previous rotation with the legal section, this rotation allowed me to learn more about the legal-policy nexus and exposed me to the variety of work across the Department in the regulation, planning and compliance spheres.

Working in the face-paced and ever-changing environment of a taskforce was a great challenge and meant I was exposed to the ever-changing environment of government and involved in plenty of meetings with high-level departmental staff.

Final Placement —Hazardous Waste Section, Environmental Quality Division

For my final placement, I moved to the Hazardous Waste Section of the Environment Quality Division which is responsible for providing policy advice and administering legislation and programs to protect the environment from the impacts of human activities, including by regulating fuel quality, ozone depleting substances, waste oil as well as hazardous waste. I saw this placement as a great way to combine my degrees in international studies and law.

The Hazardous Waste Section administers the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 whichwas developed to enable Australia to comply with specific obligations under the Basel Convention (Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal), a Convention set up to control the international movements of hazardous wastes.

My day-to-day role within the Hazardous Waste Section includes processing export, import and transit permit applications under the Act and consulting with stakeholders on the Act and permit process. I also monitor permit holders to ensure compliance with the Act and formulate and implement policies relating to the international movements of hazardous waste to and from Australia. In addition to this I have been working on litigation involving key chemical, oil and gas companies within Australia, and preparing and advising on Australia’s position at the 2012 Basel Convention Conference of Parties held in Geneva. My role in this complex and interesting international sphere has also seen me assisting with treaty action to ratify amendments to the Basel Convention.