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Volunteer enjoys Fijian draft

News

Cite as: (2006) 80(9) LIJ, p. 28


Melbourne legal officer Heather Holt volunteered her legal skills to help draft Fijian legislation.

For two years Melbourne lawyer Heather Holt found herself in the “engine room” of the Fijian government, where she helped draft and amend the country’s legislation.

The former Victorian government legal officer took up a position as second parliamentary counsel with the Fijian Office of the Solicitor-General in September 2003.

As well as being employed and paid by the Fijian government, Ms Holt worked as one of 500 Australian Volunteers International (AVI) participants.

Under AVI programs, nine Australian lawyers are currently positioned across Asia, the Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Ms Holt said volunteering in another country gave Australian lawyers the opportunity to practise their skills in a different environment and “also deal with people who culturally respond differently”.

Admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of Fiji, Ms Holt worked for an international development project called the Pacific Technical Assistance Facility.

She assisted in drafting a wide range of legislation, including the Financial Transactions Reporting Act 2005 and the Chemical Weapons Convention Act 2005.

Limited human resources and no reprints of amendments since 1985 meant Ms Holt had to think practically when assisting Fiji’s Attorney-General Senator Qoriniasi Babitu Bale.

During her placement, the Fiji Law Revision Commission began consolidating the nation’s legislation into an electronic statute book.

Ms Holt said it was a mammoth task, but once the law was made accessible the process of law reform was likely to accelerate.

Despite having to leave her two grown daughters Lizie and Anne behind, Ms Holt said she was inspired by the challenges of working in another country.

“I saw the ad in The Age and I thought that’s got my name written on it, and six months later I arrived,” she said.

The geographical positioning of the Fijian Islands would often impact on Ms Holt’s work.

“There are 300 islands, 100 are populated, and there is a tyranny of distance because of the Pacific [Ocean].”

Working from the country’s capital, Suva, Ms Holt assisted Fiji’s First Parliamentary Counsel Rupeni Nawaqakuta to mentor and train senior officials. She also wrote the country’s first guide on the legislative process in Fiji.

In an article Ms Holt wrote for The Legal Lali: Law Journal of the Office of Attorney General, she said: “Constitutionally it is much easier to draft in the Fiji Islands [compared to Australia] from the point of view that this country is not, legislatively, a federation”.

Learning a new language, adapting to the humidity and becoming accustomed to the cultural rituals were all rewarding elements of the position, Ms Holt said.

Now back in Melbourne, Ms Holt works as a legislative drafting officer for the Victorian WorkCover Authority.

Harriet Morley

How to volunteer

Australian lawyers can volunteer to work for AVI programs across the world.

There are no age restrictions, but candidates must have the necessary qualifications and relevant work experience.

Assignments funded by the Australian government through AusAID vary from one to two years and include airfares, accommodation, a living allowance and insurance.

For more information visit
http://www.australianvolunteers.com or ph 1800 331 292.

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