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Clean Energy Regulator

  • 100 - 500 employees

Michelle Huang

I love how my work impacts wide-reaching issues that have tangible effects on everyday Australians, as well as impacts for Australia’s future environmental landscape.

What is your name? What did you study? When did you graduate?

I’m Michelle and I am a current graduate at the Clean Energy Regulator. I studied a Bachelor of Laws/ Bachelor of Business (Majoring in Human Resource Management) at the University of Technology Sydney. I finished up my last subjects at the end of 2017 and had my official graduation ceremony in mid-2018.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the North Western suburbs of Sydney, in the Hills District. I lived and studied in Sydney all my life up until January 2018, which is when I moved down to Canberra for the Clean Energy Regulator graduate program.

During university I had a variety of part-time and casual jobs which were all beneficial experiences in their own way. I’ve previously worked in hospitality, retail, as a piano teacher, as a clerk at a telecommunications company and as a legal content writer at a family law firm.

I’ve also enjoyed volunteer work throughout university- I found it was a valuable way to contribute to important causes. I’ve spent some time volunteering abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for the Mirror Foundation, which works to promote the rights of the area’s hill tribe people. I’ve also volunteered as a NSW Justice of the Peace for the local community.

What made you want to work at the Clean Energy Regulator?

In my final year of law school, I undertook an elective called ‘Environmental Law’. During the course, my major project touched on how the courts have become an indirect, yet critical forum for debating the future of greenhouse gas emission regulation. From this, I became interested in learning how governments can play their part to yield more direct change in the carbon abatement arena.

The Clean Energy Regulator has administrative responsibilities under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), which is the centrepiece of the Australian Government’s current policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Considering that climate change is one of the biggest challenges affecting our world today, the wide-reaching work the agency does through administering climate law schemes really aligned with my desire to contribute however I can in this space.

What does the Clean Energy Regulator do?

The Clean Energy Regulator is an independent statutory authority operating as part of the Environment portfolio. The agency is responsible for administering climate change legislation to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of clean energy. The agency’s overall purpose is to accelerate carbon abatement for Australia.

The agency is an economic regulator with environmental outputs- a combination of incentives and regulation underpins the schemes we administer. The agency has administrative responsibilities for the:

  • National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme, under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007;
  • Emissions Reduction Fund, under the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011;
  • Renewable Energy Target, under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, and
  • Australian National Registry of Emissions Units, under the Australian National Registry of Emissions Units Act 2011.

What are your areas of responsibility in your current rotation?

My current rotation is in Legal Services in the Office of General Counsel. I work on a variety of matters, including assisting Senior Legal Officers (SLOs) and Principal Legal Officers (PLOs) by drafting legal advice and providing research analysis, assisting in developing administrative tools, templates and processes, and attending internal client meetings. The legislation we look at centres around CER-specific legislation (such as those listed above) and also general Commonwealth legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

Can you describe a typical work day?

As is implied by the name, the Legal Services section ​​provides dedicated in-house legal services to the agency. Officers in the agency contact the legal team to request legal advice, seek clearance of a document or consult about a matter. The team then works with the client to resolve the matter.

My work varies day-by-day which keeps it interesting; there is no typical day. I work mostly to my supervisor, a PLO, but I’ve also done work for the other SLOs and PLOs. This means I’ve worked on matters relating to contract law, administrative law, freedom of information, statutory interpretation, civil and criminal law (relating to regulatory compliance). As a small in-house legal team, we tend to be generalists more than specialists, and of course, the nature of our work always depends on the needs of the agency (as our client).

Suppose a student was considering Clean Energy Regulator’s Graduate Program. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills that would be beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

I would highly recommend Clean Energy Regulators graduate program to any students out there. I believe, over any specific course or degree, having a keen interest in the agency’s purpose would take you far. If I was recommending subjects for law students who are interested in this area, I would suggest environmental law, climate law, and so on. Generally, environmental science, engineering and economics are also fields that the agency hires in. However, the agency considers a variety of disciplines and there is no particular pre-requisite. There is ample training in the graduate year and continuous on the job learning.

Soft skills are crucial to the workplace. I believe teamwork, communication and critical thinking skills are just as important as ‘technical’ skills learnt from your degree. Getting work experience during your studies is also extremely important and can help you land that full-time position after university. They don’t all have to specifically relevant to your degree in order for you to develop valuable skills.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

I love how my work impacts wide-reaching issues that have tangible effects on everyday Australians, as well as impacts for Australia’s future environmental landscape. I also truly believe in our purpose of accelerating carbon abatement for Australia and feel like the agency is making a real difference to the world.

I’ve always enjoyed reading, writing and analysis; so any task in that space is right up my alley! Luckily, being in Legal Services gives me plenty of exposure to this type of work.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job?

The Clean Energy Regulator is a very technical agency. The schemes we administer are scientifically and technically complex. As someone from a non-scientific background, it can be a challenge to wrap my head around all the calculations and formulas under all the various Acts, Rules, Regulations and so on that govern the schemes.

It’s important to work together with your colleagues and draw on everyone’s individual strength and expertise to get good outcomes. This is the case in every workplace- teamwork and forming productive working relationships is an essential part of the workforce.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I also enjoyed studying and working in Family Law- I believe if I was not at the CER I may have gone on to specialise in that area. Otherwise, I also enjoyed employee relations at university- I can see myself working in that space too.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? 

  • Try to make the most of your university life! Join societies and clubs, volunteer, travel, etc. Enjoy those long university breaks and summers!
  • Try to get work experience. This will be invaluable and prepare you for a full-time career post-university.
  • Don’t stress too much if you are not sure where you want to go with your career. You never know what opportunities are out there and where they might take you.