Tom - 2012 Graduate Program
- Monash University
- Bachelor of Science Advanced (Honours)
At uni I studied what you’d probably expect from a SEWPaC graduate—physical and human geography with a touch of environmental biology and politics. After writing an honours thesis on community sustainability education I felt that I needed a break from studying. I applied for the department’s graduate program on a bit of a whim after visiting a careers fair at university. Accepting a position in the SEWPaC graduate program was definitely a fantastic way to develop new skills, meet passionate people and kick-start my career.
Before making the move to Canberra I worked in local government delivering environmental education programs to school students. I was also involved in a local landcare group that helped to conserve the local parkland.
First Placement—Water Strategies Section, Water Reform Division
This first rotation wasn’t quite what I was expecting, which is probably what made it such a valuable learning experience. The Water Strategies team look after Australia’s international engagement on water issues, ranging from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan through to aquatic biodiversity management. This involved producing communications material for international conferences and meetings, as well as preparing briefing material for officials who were representing the department overseas. I was also lucky enough to assist in preparations for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, supporting the development of Australia’s position on various water issues.
My key task in this rotation was to prepare an issues paper on the human right to water and sanitation. This involved research and liaising with other areas of the Water Group to identify all the key issues, and presenting them concisely. I also had the opportunity to interact with other government departments through organisation of an inter-departmental meeting on the human right to water and sanitation.
Second Placement—Strategic Assessment Team, Great Barrier Reef Taskforce
This rotation was a rare opportunity to work on a very topical issue, while at the same time get a good understanding of the department’s major piece of legislation—the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Following a World Heritage Committee decision in 2011 regarding Australia’s management of the Great Barrier Reef, the government is undertaking a comprehensive strategic assessment of the entire Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone.
Strategic assessments are relatively new and offer an innovative approach to ensure long term protection of the environment in the face of urban, industrial and agricultural development. I’d learnt a lot about project-by-project assessment as well as strategic assessments at uni, and was keen to see how these play out in the real world. It was definitely an interested and valuable experience.
My specific role during my time in the Taskforce was to assist in evaluating stakeholder submissions on the strategic assessment terms of reference. Presenting the comments and concerns of the hundreds of stakeholder submissions in a Ministerial brief was a challenging task. This rotation saw me getting very friendly with Microsoft Excel, producing graphs and tables to demonstrate the key issues associated with the strategic assessment.
Third Placement—Biodiversity Fund Delivery Section, Biodiversity Conservation Division
I chose this rotation as it was a fantastic opportunity to develop program delivery, stakeholder engagement and financial management skills. The Biodiversity Fund is a new program, and is the largest component of the government’s Land Sector component of the Clean Energy Future Package, with funding of $946 million over 6 years. The Fund aims to build connectivity and resilience in the landscape by promoting biodiverse carbon plantings and revegetation, management of existing carbon stores and managing pests in a connected landscape.
My team was responsible for the assessment of Biodiversity Fund grant applications, which is a complex and time consuming process. I assisted in arranging training for grant application assessors, who are tasked with ranking applications against set criteria. This involved developing an online assessment tool, preparing a training manual, creating assessment questions, and arranging travel for the assessors (who come from right across the country).
Final Placement—Budget Strategy Unit, Policy and Communications Division
For my final placement, I decided to take on a new challenge. I was fortunate to negotiate a permanent position in the Budget Strategy Unit, which is responsible for managing the portfolio’s Budget process. This includes assisting with the preparation of new policy proposals, drafting the Minister’s Budget letter and producing Budget documents such as the Portfolio Budget Statements and Ministerial Statements. It might seem like a strange fit for a geography graduate, but it is a great opportunity to be involved with the ‘policy side’ of Budget preparations. The team also has a ‘helicopter view’ of the department, so there are opportunities to contribute to high-level strategic planning for the department.