Nerita Waight
Nerita Waight

Chief Executive Officer

Nerita Waight is a Yorta Yorta and Narrandjeri woman with Taungurung connections.

Nerita is the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Nerita was first employed at VALS in 2014 as a civil lawyer. Prior to becoming CEO, Nerita had experience across several teams in the organisation including family and children’s law, as well as policy and advocacy.

Nerita has served on the Boards of several organisations including Elizabeth Morgan House, Bupup Wilam, and the Australia Community Support Organisation.

Nerita was elected as a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria in 2023 and was elected by the Assembly as Treaty Co-Convenor.

Nerita is also the mother of two young boys. Ensuring that they grow up with strong connections to their culture and kin, and in a world that is safer for Aboriginal people, is a key motivation for Nerita’s work.

Trevor Plowman
Trevor Plowman

Chief Financial Officer

Trevor Plowman has extensive experience in financial services delivery and administration and leads the VALS finance unit, encompassing all key financial and risk management review. Prior to working with VALS, Trevor worked with the Department of Justice, EPA Victoria, the Bureau of Meteorology, and Domain Caravans, within senior financial management roles. He served as the CFO of the Bureau and EPA, and Finance Director of Domain Caravans.

Amanda Dunstall

Deputy Chief Executive Officer

Amanda is a Gunditjmara woman. Amanda is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at VALS, until recently, Amanda served as a Director on the VALS board of Directors for ten years. Amanda has extensive experience working with Aboriginal communities, particularly within the Child, Family and Welfare sectors, with a strong focus on best practice and building workforce capability. Amanda has, through her tireless work, shown she is passionate about social justice for Koori people.

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Patrick Cook

Head of Communications, Policy and Strategy

Patrick has over a decade of experience in policy, campaigning and advocacy. He has a Master of Public Policy from RMIT. Patrick has previously worked as a Ministerial adviser and bureaucrat in the Victorian Government. He has a passion for building sustainable campaigns for systemic reforms.

Marie Mitchell

Statewide Community Justice Program Leader

 A proud Yorta Yorta woman, Marie completed her studies in Bachelor and Masters in Social Work in 2012, returning in 2022 to complete her Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy: First Nations.

Prior to working with VALS, Marie has worked in the community sector for nearly 15 years, across Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCO) and within Court Services Victoria, primarily in the Family Division of the Childrens’ Court, working to support the growth of the Marram-Ngala Ganbu Koori Family Hearing Day. Marie has extensive board experience in a voluntary capacity, including with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS), Bubup Wilam and Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation across the last 10 years.

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Amanda Jones 

Head of Research & Evidence Development

Amanda has over 30 years’ experience in community-based research and evaluation in the child and family welfare sector. Amanda is a registered psychologist, and has a Master of Evaluation (Research) from the Centre for Program Evaluation, University of Melbourne. Amanda has previously worked in research and evaluation senior management for The Salvation Army, Berry Street, and more recently, VACCA. Amanda has also worked as a research officer in the Victorian Parliament, as a research associate in a private government relations consultancy, and as a managing psychologist for a community-based problem gambling counselling service. Amanda is passionate about supporting evidence and knowledge building by Community for transformational change.

Principal Managing Lawyers

Negar Panahi

Principal Managing Lawyer, Balit Ngulu

Negar Panahi is the Principal Managing Lawyer of Balit Ngulu Practice. Negar started her legal career at VALS as a volunteer in 2017. Since then Negar has worked as a criminal secretary, paralegal and a solicitor with the Criminal Law Practice. During her time with the Criminal Law Practice, Negar developed a strong passion for assisting youth in the criminal justice system and developed her youth crime expertise. Negar transitioned to the Balit Ngulu Practice as senior lawyer and assisted with the program’s relaunch in September 2021.

Grace Buschgens

Principal Managing Lawyer, Criminal Law

Grace is the Principal Managing Lawyer of the Criminal Law Practice. Grace has 10 years experience working in the criminal law jurisdiction having worked at the County Court and VLA as an associate, lawyer and manager before coming to VALS permanently in 2023. Grace has a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts and is currently undertaking her Masters in Human Rights Laws at Monash University.

Juergen Kaehne
Juergen Kaehne

Principal Managing Lawyer, Aboriginal Families Law

Juergen is the Principal Managing Lawyer for VALS Aboriginal Families Law. He was previously the State Manager for the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service. It has been a privilege for him to provide legal service exclusively to Aboriginal people over the past 15 years. This service included complex child-related matters in both State and Commonwealth jurisdictions, and 10 years of remote circuit work through Cape York Peninsula. He holds a Masters degree in Family Law and is a registered Independent Children’s Lawyer, as well as a member of the Law Council of Australia and the Governance Institute of Australia


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Sarah Schwartz

Principal Managing Lawyer, Wirraway

Sarah manages the Wirraway Practice and represents clients in the areas of police accountability, the rights of people in prison and coronial inquests into Aboriginal deaths in custody. At VALS, Sarah has acted in the Inquest into the passing of Veronica Nelson and the Victorian Court of Appeal prison rights case, Thompson v Minogue. Sarah completed a Master of Laws at Harvard University on a John Monash Scholarship. Sarah is also a Lecturer and Honorary Fellow at Melbourne Law School. Sarah has previously worked at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Legal Aid NSW, and for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW. 


Siobhan Doyle

Principal Managing Lawyer, Civil and Human Rights

Siobhan is the Principal Managing Lawyer of the Civil and Human Rights Practice. She has worked at VALS since 2019, moving from Senior Lawyer to Managing Lawyer. Before finding her passion in the CLC sector Siobhan worked at a small commercial firm. She has a Bachelor of Laws and Business.


273 High St, Preston VIC 3072

1800 064 865

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