James's road to native title

James Potter is an experienced government lawyer who has brought a wealth of knowledge from around the globe to his role in Crown Law’s Native Title and Resources Team. As Special Counsel in Crown Law’s Native Title and Resources Team, James regularly draws on his international law experience gained in Australia and the United States to provide high-level advice on complex native title issues for major projects.

After graduating from the Australian National University in 1997 with a Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours and a Bachelor of Commerce, he left for the United States on a working holiday.

James arrived in Miami and quickly landed himself a casual job with an importing company. He then moved into various paralegal roles where he developed a passion for international law. While in the United States, he completed the New York Bar exam and was admitted as an Attorney and Counsellor-at-Law to the State Bar of New York in 2000.

In late 2000, James returned to Australia where he spent six years at a large independent commercial law firm in Canberra before joining the Office of International Law within the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department .

He worked in, and later led, the Security Section, providing advice on complex international law matters, preparing complex and sensitive policy papers, drafting and negotiating international treaties and representing Australia at international negotiations.

He also represented Australia in negotiations to amend the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to add the crime of aggression and other new war crimes to the Court’s jurisdiction. James acted as a legal adviser to the Australian delegation to the negotiations over a period of two and a half years, which led to a consensus agreement among States Parties to the Rome Statute at the Court’s Review Conference in 2010.

”I really enjoyed working with colleagues from countries around the world to reach a common goal. International law often develops slowly but when it does the results are satisfying.”

The following year, James received an Australia Day Achievement Award for his outstanding legal and policy work in support of his work on this matter.

James and his wife made the move from Canberra to Queensland later that year. James spent six months at the former Department of Public Works before seizing an opportunity in Crown Law’s Native Title and Resources Team in March 2012.

He now provides advice on native title and resources issues for major projects including the validity of future acts under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), mining and resources legislation, and Indigenous Land Use Agreements.

“I am consistently challenged working in native title at Crown Law as each matter is unique,” James said.

“I’m able to draw on my international law experience in native title work. It is not going too far to say that international law laid the foundations for native title law in Australia.  The International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara rejected the concept that inhabited land could be terra nullius, foreshadowing the High Court’s decision in Mabo recognising native title in Australian law. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, underpins the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), which is also central to a large part of Crown Law’s native title advice work,” he said.

The information in this publication is provided for general purposes only. It is not to be relied on as a substitute for legal advice. Crown Law and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General accept no liability for losses caused by reliance on the material in this publication. Formal legal advice should be obtained for particular matters.

Published: 17 December 2013

Author: James Potter