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A-G defends govt's legal spend tactics
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A-G defends govt's legal spend tactics

The federal Attorney General has offered a retort to criticisms of the Government's handle on legal spend, saying things have improved and that legal spend will become more transparent, and more prudent._x000D_

THE federal Attorney General has offered a retort to criticisms of the Government's handle on legal spend, saying things have improved and that legal spend will become more transparent, and more prudent.

Attorney General robert McClelland accused the previous government and current Opposition of not understanding how the Budget works today, saying end of year legal expenditure figures could not be produced before the end of the financial year.

He said that under the previous Government there was “massive under-reporting” of legal expenditure, and that comparable data was not available.

His comments come after reform to reporting of legal expenditure by in-house legal services, which requires reporting to take a standard form.

McClelland said the reforms have improved transparency and consistency of information.

But it’s still considering an independent review, which found the current system of agencies individually tendering for legal services, a system introduced by the former Government, is costly to the government and legal services providers.

It is now planning to implement further reforms to lessen legal spend nationally.

The furour comes after Commonwealth agencies spent an extra $102 million on legal bills in 2007-08 compared with the previous year.

He defended a recent rise in expenditure, however, claiming half the increase in legal spend in 2007-08 was due to the inclusion of agencies that have never previously reported their expenditure.

The rise that year had spurred a review into government legal spend, conducted by former Clayton Utz partner Sibylie Krieger and former senior public servant Tony Blunn AO. It was completed in October 2009.

It was revealed at the time that lawyers had absorbed $555 million in legal fees from the government in the previous year.

“The Attorney-General’s Department has this week confirmed that in the 2008-09 financial year, the Rudd Labor Government spent $555 million on lawyers,” according to Coalition Scrutiny of Government spokesperson, Senator Guy Barnett.

Almost $308 million had been spent on external lawyers and $247 million on in-house legal advice.

“Among the biggest spending agencies were the Australian Tax Office ($75.6 million), the Australian Securities and Investments Commission ($70.8 million), the Department of Defence ($61.2 million) and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship ($38.6 million)," Barnett said at the time.

Attorney General McClelland has previously said: “[It] is clear we need to do more to control the legal expenses of commonwealth agencies.”


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