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Govt spending on private firms queried

Govt spending on private firms queried

THE PROJECTED expenditure by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources on external and internal legal services for the 2003-04 financial year has been announced. And, if the previous…

THE PROJECTED expenditure by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources on external and internal legal services for the 2003-04 financial year has been announced. And, if the previous year was anything to go by, significantly more will be spent on external barristers and solicitors.

Shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon MP asked the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources Ian Macfarlane at the beginning of this month how much the department spent during 2002-03 on outsourced barristers and solicitors, including private firms and any others.

In Parliament last week, Macfarlane said the total spent by his department on external solicitors and barristers in that financial year had been $3,981,036.

He said the department did not separately record the amount spent on barristers because they are usually engaged through firms of solicitors and their work is included as part of the overall invoices submitted by those firms. “To provide a separate figure on the cost of barristers during the 2002-03 financial year would involve unreasonable diversion of the department’s resources,” he added.

Macfarlane could specify, however, that the department spent $1,035,221 on internal legal services during that financial period, significantly less than on private law firms and others.

The department’s projected combined expenditure on external and internal legal services for the 2003-04 was expected to be $5.2 million.

A report conducted in June last year by independent consultant Sue Tongue recorded the results of a survey of 170 government agencies. It revealed that the external legal services required by agencies, and the internal services provided within agencies, varied.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department told Lawyers Weekly the figures in the report were indicative only, but were an indication of “how much government work [private law firms] are picking up”.

The survey listed 11 major law firms and sought reports from agencies on whether they had used any of these firms in the last four years. Ten firms had a steady rise in the number of government users between 1998-99 and 1999-2000. Seven continued to rise in the following years. Also, the majority of firms continued to be used by an increasing number of agencies and appeared on more panels each year. Actual amounts of work conducted by private law firms were not evaluated.

Blake Dawson Waldron saw a significant increase in the number of government agencies that used its services over the survey period. In 1998-99 the firm had 21 users, and in 2001-02 it had 41, according to the report. Minter Ellison and Clayton Utz also attracted significant increases. Minters more than doubled its government users, from 16 in 1998-99 to 33 in 2001-02. And Clayton Utz was used by 20 agencies in 1998-99, compared with 32 in 2001-02.

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