Ben - 2012 Graduate Program

Home state

  • South Australia


  • Flinders University


  • Doctor of Philosophy (Groundwater microbiology)
  • Bachelor of Science with Honours (Hydrology and Biology)


I grew up in Melbourne, went to high school in Singapore, and then worked for a Singaporean based company selling medical and diagnostic equipment in Vietnam and Indonesia. Although this was interesting and challenging work I decided to return to Australia to study a science degree to learn more about the world in which we live.

My honours degree involved investigating bacteria and viruses at the Coorong lagoon (at the mouth of the Murray River). Areas of the Coorong were quite degraded at the time due to a lack of environmental flow from the Murray and this highlighted to me some of the complexities involved in managing our water resources.

My PhD research involved investigating the microbial dynamics of aquifers and I was given the opportunity to conduct some quite intensive, and often remote, sampling across South Australia. During my time collecting data I was exposed to a myriad of stakeholders suffering from a range of different water related issues mainly due to the over-extraction of groundwater. Although I loved the scientific research and have published my results in several international scientific journals I really wanted to be involved in contributing to the solutions of some of these environmental challenges facing Australia.

The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Populations and Communities is an ideal place to be actively involved in the development and implementation of environmentally based policies and programs, and the grad program offers a fantastic and unique opportunity to gain a broad introduction to the department.


First Placement—Strategic Assessments Section, Office of Water Science Division

The Office of Water Science was set up in 2011 and was tasked with implementing a framework for the protection of our water resources from coal seam gas and large coal mining developments. This rotation was ideally suited to my hydrology background, enabling me to ‘hit the ground running’. I was given the opportunity to work on range of areas and projects including helping to characterise areas under threat from recent or future coal seam gas developments and contribute to groundwater based projects that would help to assess potential impacts from mining activities.

Second Placement—Offshore Petroleum Section, Environment Assessment and Compliance Division

Prior to conducting major operations which may impact the environment, companies are required to submit a formal proposal detailing their activities to the Department for environmental approval. My work in the Offshore Petroleum Section involved assessing referrals, such as the installation of a petroleum production well, by determining the potential impacts on matters of National Environmental Significance. Matters of National Environmental Significance are protected under the Environment Protections and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and, for example, include world heritage areas and threatened or migratory species. During this rotation I was exposed to the regulatory processes in the department, given the opportunity to liaise with other sections and exposed to a wealth of departmental resources to assist me in making a fair and critical assessment of the referral activities.

Third Placement—Governance and Risk Management, Policy and Communications Division

I chose to work in the Governance and Risk Management section because I wanted to gain a greater understanding of how the department operates. The Policy and Communications Division is a corporate division set up to ensure consistency across the department and improve the efficiency of departmental operations. I was working in the governance team, which involved the development and implementation of policies directly applicable to the overall operations of the department. During my rotation I helped to develop and update the overall governance framework for the department. This rotation exposed me to a strategic overview of how the department operates while emphasizing the importance of having overarching policies in place to ensure all employees are aware of their responsibilities and obligations.

Final Placement—Governance and Risk Management, Policy and Communications Division

For my final placement, I negotiated a position in the governance and risk section, but moved from the governance team to the risk team. The risk team is there to support the entire department by providing risk management advice and support to help ensure the achievement of objectives. I desired to stay with the risk team because this section will provide me with the opportunity to be exposed to vastly different project and operational activities across the department. Furthermore, I believe that the concept of risk management should be integrated across the department in order to improve organisational efficiency and manage uncertainty in projects, programs and policy delivery.