Interview with a Mediator & Conciliator


A/N – I first met our inspirational interviewee when I took on the role of CEO at Lifeline Top End. 

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.
I had a good education in the UK and a mother who believed her daughters were entitled to be educated as well as her son. I did an honours maths degree Imperial College, London and went straight into secondary school maths teaching in 1957.

Sex without marriage in those days was a dicey option so I married in 1958 and between 1963 and 1967 had three children. Five years home as a full time mother drove me nuts so I was fortunate to be able to return to teaching part-time at an exclusive girls boarding school with a crêche!

My husband successfully applied for a job in Darwin in 1970 and migrated in September. The children and I followed in December (I had to give a term’s notice) and actually arrived on 1/1/71. Over the 18 1/2 years from July 1962 to December 1980 I was out of full-time work but involved in many things, including occasional teaching and studying for a Diploma in Secondary Education.

I spent 3 years with AMP discovering that I was better at teaching than at selling (but saving myself from 24 hours a day immersed in teenagers!) then returned to teaching.

By the end of 1982 my husband and I had separated and he subsequently re-married. I spent 1984 to mid-1989 in secondary schools, always teaching maths, of course! I was then fortunate to be accepted to the staff of the maths section of ITAFE, under the umbrella of the then NTU (now CDU) in mid-1989 and I remained there until January 2005.

From 1993 to 1996 I had completed a Master of Science (Science Education) [really maths education, but there was no separate category!] by thesis through Curtin University of Technology. During my last semester as a maths lecturer in 2004 I commenced studying law, continuing as a full-time student through 2005 until the end of 2007. I also undertook the LEADR Mediation Training Course in 2006 and during 2007 completed all the theory involved in the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice as well as the last 5 units in the law course.

Once I had completed the placement component of the GDLP, I was admitted as a Barrister & Solicitor at the Supreme Court of the NT in February 2008. I practiced as a lawyer, mainly in the criminal law area, until the end of June 2012 and retained my practising certificate until the end of June 2015 so that I could continue to provide occasional free legal advice at the sessions conducted by the Darwin Community Legal Service. Since 2012 I have been engaged in conducting occasional mediations through the Community Justice Centre and in August 2015 I completed a Conciliator Masterclass for the Anti-Discrimination Commission, again conducted by LEADR.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
My upbringing and the nature of the education which I was privileged to have (all free in those days!) left me with an unwritten obligation to put back into society. I was brought up as a Christian and have no problem accepting the ethical standards, it expects, but have too much of the scientist in my nature to accept blind faith. So I am an ethical agnostic and, as the Dalai Lama says, recognise that I am here to help others – as well as enjoying my own life!

I realise that I have had privileges not shared by all and have skills which I can use to help others. My motivation to study law – which built up over a 30 year period! – was driven by the many examples I encountered of people whose lives were damaged or destroyed because they could not afford legal advice.

Mediation requires the facilitation of a discussion between two parties in dispute in the hope of their arriving at a solution they can both live with. Mediations conducted through the Community Justice Centre (CJC) are free so the parties do not incur costs and can avoid the adversarial approach taken by lawyers.

Win-win beats win-lose hands down! Whether I am good in my chosen field is for others to say. I know I try to do my best to help others when possible.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
Over time I have been involved in a voluntary/honorary capacity in many organisations. Since coming to Australia I have been in various roles and representative capacities with the boards and committees of the Parap Pre-School Association, the NT Pre-School Association, the Inaugural Council of the Family Planning Association of the NT (including its Education Sub-Committee), The Housing Commission, the Mathematics Teachers Association of the NT, the CDU Law Students Society, Undergraduate Member of the CDU Council, Life Education NT, Lifeline Top End, Darwin Community Legal Service and the Environmental Defenders Office.

I am currently on the Human Research Ethics Committee of CDU and, some years ago represented the School of Technology on one of the NTU Ethics Committees. I guess all that adds up to feeling that I want to be involved and help with important decision making without necessarily having to carry the entire weight of an organisation on my own shoulders!

What can be challenging about your profession?
It is hard to now define my profession! I still take a strong interest in maths education and am appalled by the fact that the desperate need for maths teachers in 1957 shows no sign (in 2015) of having been in any way ameliorated by subsequent actions.

I personally feel that education needs a complete overhaul and teachers should not be regarded as surrogate parents! Parents need to learn how to socialise their own children (and I know from experience that is more easily said than done!) Bureaucrats with no recent classroom experience are not in a position to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

As far as the law is concerned, I am far happier with alternative dispute resolution methods. Law and justice are too often poles apart and enforced solutions are less palatable than ones reached from some degree of consensus.

More so today than at any time in my life, I want to change the world. Governments are making life harder not better for the majority of the population and the gap between the privileged and the desperate has become massive. Through Facebook and Twitter I am discovering how vast is the apathy of an alarmingly large proportion of the population who seem locked into the consumerism and ‘I’m all right” modus operandi. I will not despair, but it is a challenge!

What do you most like about your profession?
I think the most satisfying thing in my life these days are having the parties to a mediation shake hands, smile at each other and walk out putting their dispute behind them!

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
I had a matter before the Master in the Supreme Court. Because those at the bench have a microphone which enables recording of all that they say for the benefit of the transcript, I suspect they do not appreciate that they often do not speak loudly enough to be heard in the body of the Court. On this particular occasion, as I could not hear what the Master had said I asked him to repeat it. I got a curt “Are you deaf Ms Jacob?” to which I probably replied “yes” since it would have been inappropriate to suggest the fault was not mine.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most embarrassing experience was when – as a very inexperienced lawyer – I took on a matter that had previously been handled by a lawyer in a different practice who was not free to continue with the client. I did not know enough about Court procedure and the complications which arose left me with nightmares. I knew I had not helped the client and was entirely mortified.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Train and practice as a mediator BEFORE you study law. You do not need to be a lawyer in order to mediate but the skills you develop as a mediator can be invaluable to a lawyer. The adversarial nature of the Court (and politics) is destructive and learning to help people talk to each other is more rewarding than fighting counsel for the other party! Incidentally – mediation has an approximately 80% success rate!

Is there anything else you would like to share? I think we all have a great many different personalities and which one we exhibit depends on the company and the circumstances. You may bring out the best in someone whereas I might bring out the worst. (I think our recently deposed PM brought out the worst in me and we have not even met!).

I am deeply concerned about the damage that extremism in religion is doing to the world. In my opinion, power corrupts and this can be seen in both religion and politics. Religion should help everyone to live as nearly as possible in harmony – accepting that some people’s brains are not appropriately wired for this goal – and if it causes wars and worse, how can you believe it is the right way to think?

For me, if I am remembered for a short while by a few people after I die, then I will have a life after death. It may not be for eternity, yet if my ashes return to the ground, then even eternity might be an option!

Rosemary Jacob & Michelle Hanton
Michelle Hanton and Rosemary Jacob

Rosemary Jacob (nee Melville) is today a practising Mediator and Conciliator available in Darwin, NT, Australia, through the Community Justice Centre, to undertake mediation and conciliation.

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