While McBride would clearly not claim to be an objective commentator on the subject, his views are supported by impartial analysis from other sources. In August last year, the government’s Sustainable Budget Commission investigated a wide range of public expenditure issues and made a recommendation, inter alia, that “all legal work required by agencies should be purchased from a panel of preferred legal service providers.” Under this model, the Crown Solicitor’s Office would be required to compete with law firms for work.
In September, the government delivered a rather equivocal response to this recommendation, indicating that it would “consider greater use of private sector legal services on an ad-hoc basis.” It remains to be seen how that will evolve in practice.
McBride says that the system needs to change – but he is not particularly optimistic that this will occur. “What we hear from many government agencies is that they’re not happy with the level of service, not happy that [government lawyers] are risk averse - quite often unnecessarily risk averse – and not commercial. I don’t see that changing in the near future. I think there was an opportunity for that to change and it has passed,” he says.
PPPs and big work
Local firms have been overlooked not only for routine government work, but on some of the major projects too. One of the most significant projects underway at the moment is the New Royal Adelaide Hospital PPP, valued at approximately A$1.7bn – reportedly the highest value social infrastructure project in Australian history.
Clayton Utz is the government advisor on this project and Melbourne-based partner Jo Pugsley is leading the Clutz team. Local firms acknowledge that Clayton Utz is a pre-eminent advisor in this area, but they are also unhappy that they were not given the opportunity to tender for this work and that the government appears to have by-passed local talent.
“The work that originates from government can more than adequately be done by local firms - we have the experience and the skills,” says Stuart Price. “Our lawyers have done the large projects, they are experienced in the kind of things that are being referred out. I would say that at the macro level if the government is keen to support the local economy, they should give us a fair go so we are at least considered. We are not saying local firms should be appointed first and foremost but we should be given a fair go.”
Go to page: 1 2 3 4 5