Desk officer: Nuclear Security Section – Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office
Other positions in the department:
Desk officer: Afghanistan Domestic Section
Where did you live and what were you doing before joining the department?
After graduating from university in Melbourne, I went to The Netherlands to work as an intern in the judges’ chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. I then worked in Sydney for a year at a start-up software company.
What qualifications do you have?
Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from Monash University. I have a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice and I am admitted as a lawyer in NSW.
Have you used your qualifications/experience during your time in the department?
Even though I have not rotated through a legal branch, I have had the opportunity to use my legal skills in my first two work sections. Much of the policy work at DFAT takes place within the context of Commonwealth legislation and international legal instruments and legal skills are consequently quite useful. I have used my legal background to assist with interpreting legislation in order to provide advice to the Minister as well as interpreting legislation to help form an Australian negotiating position on international agreements.
Do you speak another language?
Yes, French and conversational Dutch.
Why did you apply for the graduate program in the department?
I have always had an interest in international affairs and an interest in a wide range of topics. The variety and breadth of work on offer at DFAT is really second to none, and you will find yourself becoming an expert in areas you never imagined. This diversity of work, the opportunity to work for Australia’s interest on topics that interested me and the opportunity to work overseas in challenging places were the major reasons for applying.
What was the most challenging aspect of the recruitment/selection process?
The panel interview is quite challenging as the panel will ask you to give informed opinions on topics for which there are not necessarily clear cut answers.
Do you have any tips for applicants on how to approach the selection process?
At the first stage, it is crucial that you address the selection criteria. It is no use presenting all your amazing experience and qualifications if you don’t link the skills you have gained from these to the selection criteria to demonstrate how these skills are relevant to DFAT’s work.
Also, bear in mind that the work of the department covers much more than foreign affairs. DFAT’s work also covers aid, trade, consular assistance, passports, international tourism, climate change negotiation, managing Australia’s overseas property and international crisis response. All of these areas are, in themselves, influenced by other factors, so read widely and give informed answers at both the written and interview stages.
Has the reality of working in the department differed from your perceptions of what it was going to be like?
The teams at DFAT are surprisingly small so you will be relied upon from the outset to handle your share of work and contribute substantively to the team. I also did not expect to have so many opportunities to learn, be it through my work rotations or through the structured graduate training. The academic and practical training offered through the DFAT graduate program is unmatched in the public service and is an incredible opportunity to develop professionally and personally.
What has been the highlight of your career with the department so far?
Within a few weeks of starting at DFAT, I was acting as the liaison officer for a visit by a foreign Deputy Minister which involved arranging meetings, managing the logistics of the week and accompanying the Deputy Minister as she met with NGOs and Members of Parliament. Other highlights have included: meeting with the Governor-General; meeting with the Foreign Minister; participating in a two month academic and professional skills training block with junior international diplomats; undertaking a week of regional travel to the Northern Territory to meet with business, industry and visit cultural sites; and the opportunity to meet with prominent Australians and people from overseas, all of whom have interesting stories.
As an economist/accountant/lawyer etc, why would you recommend the department over other career options?
The breadth of legal work that comes through the department means that you will always have something new to work on. You also get the satisfaction of contributing work which impacts on Australian Government policy and other big picture issues, and you do this work surrounded by excellent, friendly people.
How do you enjoy living in Canberra?
Canberra is without a doubt the most underrated city in Australia. In many ways, Canberra has the benefits of living in a city with bars, cafes, galleries, museums and events and festivals exceeding its size, yet you sometimes feel like you are living in the bush – there are kangaroos at the end of my street. While Canberra does not have the same buzz as the other capital cities, other factors such as the outdoor lifestyle and the ease of getting around more than make up for this.
Have you any other insights for potential applicants?
Remember that DFAT works as part of the broader APS and international affairs are not the exclusive domain of DFAT. The strong connection between foreign and domestic policy means that you will work closely with other APS agencies on much of the work you do.