Astin - 2012 Graduate Program

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  • Monash University
  • The University of Melbourne


  • Bachelor of Arts
  • Master of Commercial Law (specialising in environmental, energy & resources law)


I had spent my years at university discovering that my interest was in environmental legislation (rather than science) and my Masters focussed particularly on Commonwealth legislation, including the EPBC Act. I developed a keen interest in compliance and enforcement issues, and realised fairly quickly that the best use of my Masters degree would be to apply for a graduate program in a Commonwealth department—given my time studying the EPBC Act (and my genuine interest in it) it was a natural step for me to apply for the DSEWPaC graduate program.


First Placement—Environmental Stewardship Program, Australian Government Land & Coasts Division

The Environmental Stewardship Program is part of the Caring for our Country initiative, run by DSEWPaC and DAFF. The Program provides grant money to eligible land holders (usually farmers) to maintain areas of land for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. This often requires removing stock, building fences, removing weeds etc. Grant recipients are required to report on their actions and results, and contract lengths vary from 3 years to 15 years.

The section manages grants under the Program and my time there revolved around assessing monitoring and evaluation reports (to determine eligibility for milestone payments), relevant stakeholder engagement, participating in meetings assessing grant applications for a new funding round, a site visit to meet a land holder, and also coordinating the section’s contribution to a Senate Estimates Brief.

This section gave me a good introduction to the area of grants management and the relevant processes that exist within the Department. It also gave me a good introduction into the Department’s writing styles and approvals processes, and how this is managed when the overriding program (Caring for our Country) is being administered by 2 departments.

Second Placement—Legislation Policy Section, Regulatory Reform Taskforce

The Legislation Policy Section provides policy advice to line areas throughout the Department (it is essentially the policy equivalent of the Legal Section). Work varies from ad-hoc responses to advice requests, coordinated contributions to enquiries etc., and the development of regulatory guides to provide more comprehensive advice on a particular issue. The section also maintains a policy advice database for use within the section, to allow easy access to the issues that have come through and the responses that were given.

For the 3 months I was in the section I had a single project to work on—after receiving a request from the Marine Division, it was my task to write a regulatory guide relating to a section of the EPBC Act that refers to Marine Bioregional Plans and when these plans can be referred to by decision-makers—this was to coincide with the release of these Plans in late 2012. To write this guide required a lot of work, providing me with many learning opportunities—firstly I had to gain a thorough understanding of the content of Marine Bioregional Plans and how Marine Bioregional Plans fit into the EPBC Act. I then had to identify where Marine Bioregional Plans could be considered relevant in the decision making process, contact the relevant line areas and workshop ideas regarding this relevance. From this, I was then able to develop the regulatory guide addressing various sections of the EPBC Act.

This was a great experience as it allowed me to gain a more thorough understanding of the writing styles required for the APS, how to communicate/network with various line areas, and how the EPBC Act works in a day-to-day sense. I consider these skills to be extremely valuable as I move forward after the graduate year.

Third Placement—Water Strategies Section (International Team), Water Reform Division

The Water Strategies Section is made up of 2 teams—the International Team, and the National Team (comprising the Water Thematic Oversight Group Secretariat). My third placement was with the International Team, who manage bilateral agreements and relationships with priority countries, host/send delegations for water-related events, and manage ad-hoc enquiries regarding Australia’s water policy. My work with the team revolved mostly around this ad-hoc work—writing (many) letters on behalf of the Minister/Parliamentary Secretary, preparing briefing packs for meetings, writing information sheets to be attached to briefs/information packs etc.

This was a great experience as I was able to (rapidly) develop my writing skills even further, gained a more thorough understanding of the everyday administrative processes that exist within the Department. I saw the international relationships that exist on water issues, learnt how extensive some coordination needs to be (extending beyond this Department), and was given many networking opportunities as all the work completed by the Section requires communication with other sections and the senior executive staff.

Final Placement—Water Strategies Section (National Team), Water Reform Division

I went through the allocation process for my final placement and was placed in the section where I had spent my third placement. However, I moved to the National Team—in this position I am working predominantly as part of the Water Thematic Oversight Group Secretariat (a component of the Standing Council on Environment and Water, Council of Australian Governments). We provide administrative and secretariat support to the Thematic Oversight Group, coordinate communication between members, issues papers, meetings, and reports to the Standing Council.

This position will allow me to consolidate my writing skills, my understanding of administrative process, and comprehension of the issues dealt with by the Water Group as a whole.