Justine Nolan has recently become the Director at the Australian Human Rights Institute following an extensive career in law and policy. This includes working as an international human rights lawyer and as a corporate lawyer. In 2019, she co-authored the book, Addressing Modern Slavery, which investigates modern human rights abuses occurring across the world, and has contributed her research and knowledge to many other publications. In addition, she lectures law at the University of NSW.
Today, Justine shares how her career has led her to the Australian Human Rights Institute, and her advice for current law and policy students.
While at university, you studied a combination of law and public policy. How have they complemented each other throughout your career?
When I was a young law student, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with my degree, and I certainly didn't know what I wanted to do after university. I always knew I was interested in issues around social justice, but at the time, I wasn't sure how to introduce this to my education.
A bit later, I discovered the world of policy. I see a natural connection between law and policy. In many senses, law looks at the theory of what should happen, while policy looks at how it works in practice. Together, they provide you with a better lens to look at the world than they do on their own.
You recently became the Director at the Australian Human Rights Institute. What motivates you to advocate for human rights?
For me, my passion for human rights was not defined by a single moment in my life. Instead, it grew through having lots of different experiences and conversations. I grew up in Papua New Guinea and had a very interesting and diverse childhood where I was exposed to many exciting aspects of life. I was introduced to the concept of different cultures and travel, which naturally shaped the way I approached issues.
As I grew up and entered university, I was further introduced to different ways of thinking, and several issues caught my attention that I hadn't previously contemplated. For example, I remember becoming more politically engaged and researching issues around human rights. Wages and the concept of a 'living wage' especially caught my attention.
As I learned more and felt more and more dissatisfied, I kept being drawn back into social justice and human rights. It made me wonder what I could do to help achieve equality across the world. I kept thinking about this massive question and some of the small ways that my work might contribute to this.
A lot of the time, when we think about change, it feels all too hard. However, sometimes it's just about having conversations with people, increasing awareness or educating people about these issues that they might not otherwise think about. It's impossible to change the world all at once, but there are many small steps people can take to improve the world, and that's probably the best place to start.
You've had a very international career that has even taken you halfway across the world to the United States. What were some of the highlights of working and studying overseas?
Meeting people would have to be my favourite part. Travel gives you the chance to expand your circle and connects you to people you otherwise would never have met. Whether I'm overseas for tourism or work, I find there are always opportunities to meet people.
It's fascinating to meet people in places that are culturally dissimilar to Australia. I love to discuss their lives and style of living since their answers are usually really interesting. It's fantastic having the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures as I always learn so much from them.
Do you have any strong female mentors or role models who you look up to?
I would have to say, my mother and my sister are two strong role models in my life who have always been supportive of me and my career.
In addition to this, I've had many colleagues who have provided me with a lot of inspiration over the years. Professor Andrea Durbachis an example of one of these women. She has done such amazing things in her career and has been so supportive of mine.
The power of female friendship is vast and is not something we should take for granted. I learn such valuable lessons from my colleagues, family and friends.
Do you have any advice for women looking to follow in your footsteps?
Life is more of a marathon than a sprint. So accept the different periods you might go through and invest your energy accordingly.
It is so important to understand both what you can do and what you can't do. It's important to be aspirational but also to accept that you can't do it all. We are all humans. Sometimes we need breaks, and sometimes we go through unproductive periods. It's important to accept yourself regardless of the ups and downs.