THE PARLIAMENTARY ruckus involving Queensland Senator Joe Ludwig and the Minister representing the Attorney General over mid-tier firm Phillips Fox’s involvement in the Digital Agenda reforms continued last week.
The last edition of Lawyers Weekly reported questions asked by Senator Ludwig about what had been done so far in analysing the key aspects of the Federal Government’s Digital Agenda amendments to the Copyright Act 1968, which will form part of the Government’s broader review of these reforms. Ludwig also wanted to know how much money had been spent on the matter.
Ludwig stressed in an interview with Lawyers Weekly that “because there had been a request for tender, there was nothing more to consider regarding whether things were done legitimately”, as detailed in last week’s report.
Regarding last week’s report, IT partner at Phillips Fox, Matthew Hall, said: “We responded to a request for tender and the department was satisfied with our methodology”. Also, “my engagement by the Department has concluded. I reject any suggestion that the process or our approach was inappropriate. And I have no understanding of what the Senator is trying to achieve”, Hall said.
Ludwig told Lawyers Weekly on Monday this week that he did not pre-judge the subjects that he would ask questions about. “Some contracts stand out and it’s our job to ask questions,” he said. “I am entitled to do this.”
A-Gs have to make public the consultants for which they have spent over a certain amount, Ludwig said. “Significant contracts are put on the web. I look at what contracts are there, and some stand out more than others as interesting,” he said. “This one stood out to me, it is only slightly unusual.”
Questions were asked “to scrutinise, to ensure money is well spent by the Commonwealth and that it is transparent”, Ludwig said.
To Senator Ludwig’s question,“Which government agencies have Phillips Fox acting on their behalf?”, Justice Minister Senator Chris Ellison had responded that the names of the firm’s clients were subject to legal professional privilege. But Ludwig told Lawyers Weekly that “if I took the issue from the other side and asked each [government] department, I would not imagine the government departments were under a similar privilege”.
On Wednesday last week Senator Ludwig asked 17 Ministers whether in the past 12 months “the department or its agencies used, retained or paid for legal or other services from Phillips Fox lawyers or any of their subsidiaries”. He asked whether details of each instance could be provided and the general nature of the work undertaken.
Senator Ludwig asked the Minister representing the Attorney General what, when and where, if any, consultative forums were held in relation to the Copyright Digital Agenda Review. He asked if any more forums were planned and whether invitations for expressions of interest were distributed and to whom.
He also asked, “Has the Minister attended any forums presented by Phillips Fox? If so, can details be provided?” And, “Has the department sponsored any Phillips Fox forums or presentations in the past 12 months? If so, can details of the forums or presentations be provided?”
These questions have to be asked of the Commonwealth, Ludwig said. “We get the opportunity to question the bureaucracy, and if we want further details we have to ask questions on notice,” he said.
There has still been no result regarding the work conducted by Phillips Fox, Ludwig added. “The report has not been handed down. I thought they were going to report shortly.”
The Minister representing the Attorney General can expect another round of questions on the matter, Ludwig said. “When the report is handed down, questions will arise out of it.”
Admitting that “at the end of the day there may be nothing there,” Ludwig said it was his job to check these things and he would continue to do so.