James Nunan Attorney-General’s Department Graduate

James Nunan

Legal Officer, Counter-Terrorism Legislation Section - AGD
James studied Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) and Master of Laws (Juris Doctor)

Where did you grow up? 

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 uni 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? 

While doing my JD 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 AAT and got accepted into the Attorney-General’s Department Graduate Program.

How did you choose your specialisation?

CTLS - Through 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 CTLS looked like a great opportunity.      

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 uni, 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? 

The interview process was split into three components – a panel interview, a 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 as a room of assessors scrutinised your every move, but I found consciously remembering to remain calm and stay focussed 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

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? 

Working on legislation, the job gives me a transferrable skill-set for the APS 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 pre-requisite for a policy role.  A propensity for analysis, thoroughness and an ability to 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? 

Being a part of decision-making that shapes the national interest. I love tasks that allow me to analyse complex, 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 representing the department at meetings.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? 

Not a limitation but meeting the demands of the government of the day, which is absolutely essential to work in the APS, 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. 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!