08 September 2012

Back to blogging after the National Tribunal Advocacy Course at University of Canberra . . .

I have been absent in blogging for a few weeks because I had been selected to attend the Australian Department of Veterans' Affairs National Tribunal Advocacy Course ("TAC") at the ANZSOG Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra.  Upon my selection, I was loaded-up on pre-course study.  I completed pre-course study and then the seven (full on) day (and nightly homework) course on Friday, 7 September 2012.

The TAC was excellent.  It took me out of my comfort zone.  I was chosen along with my team mate, Squizzy, to represent the Repatriation Commission in the fictitious case of Mr Harkirk, a Vietnam Veteran, who was appealing review of a Veterans Review Board decision to deny him certain claims. We had a mock hearing before Administrative Appeals Tribunal Senior Member Katherine Bean of Adelaide. 

Squizzy and I learned a lot - we shall always remember the "alone test" outlined in section 24(1)(c) of the Veterans Entitlement Act  ("VEA") 1986. Our quite capable opponents, Adrian and Phil, did a great job at representing the fictitious Mr Harkirk.  Squizz so eloquently told the TAC Director that till the day they put nails in his box he will always remember the "alone test."  I must concur with my new friend and colleague Squizz.

The majority of my pro bono advocacy for the Returned & Services League of Australia is in Military Rehabilitation & Compensation Act 2004 ("MRCA") cases for serving members of the Australian Defence Force and veterans; so I am not used to cases under the VEA 1986.  In MRCA there is no "alone test" in the determination as it later falls into the benefits portion.  Thus I found the "alone test" in a determination to be complicated and I'm still trying to get my head fully around it.  During the exercise we were boot-strapped from conducting outside research and could only rely upon Flentjar v Repatriation Commission.  I was later told that even barristers and Federal judges have a difficult time understanding the "alone test" in the context of determinations. 

Some of our classmates indicated to us that the "Squizzy and Norbert Show" was entertaining.  I could only hope that one day Squizzy and I can team up again to work on a case together.  At the end of the course Squizz assured the TAC Director that this would be the only time in his life that he would ever be representing the Government. [Squizz does advocacy for veterans out of Townsville, QLD.]  I agree Squizz, and that is precisely why it took both of us out of our comfort zones in representing the Government and not the veteran. I like you mate, are more suited to represent the veteran.

Professor Hugh Selby's teachings will have a lifelong lasting affect on my advocacy abilities - especially the art of cross-examination and the formation of short closed questions.  (Squizz remember:  Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.)  Also the art of subtle sarcasm after successfully impeaching a witness in cross.  I have been assured by Professor Selby that "even with that [American] accent it will be OK." 

The art of narrowing ones electronic searches, taught by Assistant Professor Arthur Hoyle, will also always be remembered.  Applying his teachings when doing research will be most helpful in getting relevant information quickly.

TAC Class of 2012 had 16 classmates, from all over the country, with various backgrounds - senior advocates, barristers, solicitors, and law school graduates.  Eight were from the Australian Government, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the other eight were from Ex-Service Organisations.

This was an excellent course and I highly recommend and encourage advocates who wish to practice in veterans matters before the AAT to apply to attend the course in 2013.  Be assured this course will take you out of your comfort zone, ensure performance in a teamwork setting, places pressure upon you and your teammate that exposes your weaknesses (in order to make you better) and enhances your strengths, and requires a lot of homework at night (with some sleepless nights).  It was much more than I ever expected and I believe it will make me a better advocate because I completed the course. And it was great to network with fellow colleagues. 

I want to also note that this course is very friendly for those who suffer disabilities - at least two of us had back problems.  The freedom to stand-up, sit-down or lay-down during instruction was most helpful to those of us who suffer back problems given the long day.  So if you are an advocate, who does have a disability, please do not let that hinder you from applying to attend this course.  The instructors were truly amazing - despite putting the pressure on us to perform.

Atlas I'm glad to be back home in Sydney and blogging.

[John Printz, the National Chairman of DVA-TIP, is most certainly congratulated for this superb course as is Course Director Ted Harrison who is the Director of Litigation for DVA. I would also like to acknowledge the entire DVA-TIP training team. And say thank you!]

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