In a new series, The Aus-PNG Network is profiling past participants of the annual Emerging Leaders Dialouge. Sebastian De Brennan is a Barrister with family ties to Papua New Guinea. He is currently working between Adelaide, Sydney and Darwin.
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Tell us about yourself and your career.
After approximately 10 years working as solicitor, I recently qualified as a Barrister. I currently work between Adelaide, Sydney and Darwin. Prior to becoming a barrister I ran a boutique law firm in Sydney specialising in criminal, employment, coronial, human rights and migration law. I have also taught at the University level and have served on the Human Rights Committee and the Criminal Law Committee of the Law Society of NSW.
What brought you to connect with Papua New Guinea through the Emerging Leaders Dialogue?
My grandfather was posted to the Department of Public Health in the Territory of Papua New Guinea (as it then was). During this posting my mother was born in Goroka and lived in PNG until her teenage years when my grandparents returned to Australia.
At my high school, St Gregory’s College Campbelltown, a number of my school mates hailed from PNG. They were passionate about sport of any kind but particularly their “national sport” of rugby league. Rugby league was played with fervour at St Gregory’s and many of the PNG players were the best of the best. Since graduating from high school I have visited PNG, joined the Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, assisted the Kokoda Track Foundation as a volunteer, walked the Kokoda Trail and kept a keen eye on all things PNG.
The opportunity to walk the Kokoda Trail with the Honourable Charlie Lynn OL was a particularly formative experience for me. Charlie taught me much about the Kokoda legacy and the brave deeds of Australian veterans and the ‘fuzzy wuzzy angels” during World War 11.
In your view, why are people-to-people connections important for the Australia – Papua New Guinea relationship?
PNG is Australia’s closest neighbour. We have an important shared history: geographically, militarily and economically. Commentators have spoken about a widening empathetic gap between the two countries. Forums such as the Emerging Leaders Dialogue are critical to reversing that development. People-to-people connections allow you to build relationships, challenge existing ways of doing things, forge common ground and to think less superficially about the Australia-PNG relationship.
What is your advice to young Australians who want to learn more about our nearest neighbour?
Get over there! The ‘Land of the Unknown’ needs to become the Land of the Known.
Do you think there is awareness and engagement with Papua New Guinea in your field, and do you see this changing?
My understanding is that there has been a strong history of collaboration between Australia and PNG on important issues relating to law and law reform. I am aware, for example, of the ‘Papua New Guinea Australia Law and Justice Partnership’ which was a six year AU$116 million program funded by the Australian Government to strengthen law and justice agencies in PNG. As with any collaboration I think there were some real successes but also real areas for improvement.
What does the future hold for you?
I am aware of other Australian lawyers that work on cases from time to time in PNG and, if the opportunity arose, would love to do the same. PNG and Australia share a rich relationship and yet the disparities between our two countries – in term of poverty and wealth – could not be more pronounced. I would like to work with fellow Australians and Papua New Guinean’s on closing that gap for the benefit of both nations.