James Nunan Attorney-General’s Department Graduate

James Nunan

Monash University
RMIT University
Legal Officer, Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section - AGD
James Nunan studied a Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) and a Master of Laws (Juris Doctor). James is a legal officer in the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section of the Attorney-General’s Department.

What's your full name and job title?

James Nunan – Legal officer, Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section, Attorney-General’s Department.

What did you study? When did you graduate?

Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) graduating in 2014 and a Master of Laws (Juris Doctor) graduating in 2017.

Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your education?

I grew up in Melbourne. Sport was massive at my high school. Winning football and cricket premierships with my schoolmates was a highlight. I spent my third year of university living in Indonesia. I got the chance to study in one of the country’s best universities, work in the bustling capital, Jakarta, and immerse myself in Indonesian culture. Interning at a firm in Jakarta piqued my interest in law and I decided to enter law school when I returned.  

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

While doing my Juris Doctor I gained practical experience volunteering at a community legal centre. I did an internship with the Attorney-General’s Department and loved it. I realised that working in government at the intersection of law and policy is where I wanted to be. I spent my last year of law school working at The Administrative Appeals Tribunal and got accepted into the Attorney-General’s Department Graduate Program.

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section: Throughout the graduate program, we were given the opportunity to rotate through different parts of the Department and get a feel for the where we’d like to land on an ongoing basis. These different roles gave me and other graduates a firm grounding in policy development and administration as well as legal service delivery. I’d taken classes and written papers on terrorism during my undergraduate degree, so a role in the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section looked like a great opportunity.      

In regards to specialising in government more generally, I was always more attracted to the public law pathway. I enjoyed constitutional law and took some public international law and public law electives at university, including international criminal justice and privacy law. Getting practical exposure through internships and other work confirmed my interest and gave me confidence going into the graduate program application process.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interview process was split into three components: a panel interview, written task and a group activity. The panel asked me questions about the Department’s direction and priorities, so it was important for me to have a good understanding of the organisation and its mission. I was also asked to reflect on times where I had been flexible and collaborative, so I needed to have a strong list of examples to demonstrate these skills. The written task and group activity were an opportunity to put these skills into practice. The group activity was initially daunting (with a room of assessors scrutinised your every move) but I found consciously remembering to remain calm and focused during the activity helped my performance.

What does your employer do?

The Department delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia’s law and justice framework. It also provides legal services to the Commonwealth through the Australian Government Solicitor. There’s plenty of interesting work across the Department that’s in the national interest, from defending the Commonwealth in international law disputes to reforming Australia’s family law system.  

What are your areas of responsibility?

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section is responsible for administering terrorism and foreign incursion offences, control orders and other powers in the Criminal Code Act 1995, as well as briefing the attorney-general on a range of national security matters. My role involves developing counter-terrorism legislation and responding to issues associated with existing terrorism and foreign incursion offences.

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

A typical day involves preparing briefs for senior executives, scrutinising new bills, preparing papers on new counter-terrorism offences and providing comments to help with their drafting.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?

Working on legislation, the job gives me transferable skills for the Australian Public Service broadly. It gives me exposure to the government’s national security community and evolving issues in the national security space.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

A legal background is not a prerequisite for a policy role. A propensity for analysis and an ability to be thorough and harness productive working relationships is key.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

Maybe in academia: 20th-century history.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

Being a part of decision making that shapes the national interest. I love tasks that allow me to analyse complex and sometimes technical issues and advocate for a clear and compelling path forward. I’m exposed to these tasks when drafting issues papers, ministerial submissions and legal policy advice or when representing the Department at meetings.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends?

It’s not a limitation but meeting the demands of the government of the day, which is absolutely essential for work in the Australian Public Service, brings its own set of challenges and rewards. I feel I’m given a good level of responsibility to create solutions and clearly justify them to supervisors, managers and others. The flexibility and work-life balance in the Department is excellent. Weekends and evenings are mine.

Are the stress levels high?

Stress ebbs and flows in line with government priorities – sometimes new legislation needs to be turned around really quickly and deadlines can be difficult to meet. Preparing for important meetings or presentations, like most jobs, can bring a level of stress.    

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Follow your gut.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Look after yourself!