THE RECENTLY announced reforms to the Federal Government’s tendering regime have been praised by government lawyers.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland last week announced that the Government would be introducing a common tender package for all Commonwealth agencies, designed to streamline the process of tendering for the provision of legal services to Government.
The new package will remove the “mini-tenders” for legal work valued at less than $80,000 and it will allow smaller Commonwealth agencies to “piggy back” on the tender panels established by larger agencies in the same portfolio.
Clayton Utz partner John Carroll said he believes that the new package strikes a good balance between increasing efficiency and retaining scope for flexibility.
“I think it’s a good, sensible, move that’s been made that will make [the Commonwealth tendering process] more efficient. And, from a quick look at the template, it does look like there is enough flexibility so that if people have got different requirements they’re able to be catered for within that structure,” he said.
Currently, Carroll said, the biggest problem with Commonwealth tenders is that they differ in quality between agencies. “Everybody goes about it a slightly different way. Some tenders are better than others in that some are very clear and concise, while others will ask the same question in five different ways, in five different places, and they are therefore more difficult and time consuming to do,” he said. “So basically we think these measures are very sensible, very practical, and well thought through.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Adrian D’Amico, partner and chairman of Deacons Canberra office. “We welcome the reforms, particularly the removal of mini tenders,” he said. “We support the goals of the Attorney-General’s review of legal services procurement and have said consistently… that increased competition and broader participation in panels is in the Commonwealth’s best interests.”
Carroll too, described the removal of mini tenders as a “good move”. “It’s going to increase the onus on government agencies to make sure that they treat firms consistently, rather than just relying on the firm that they know the best,” he said.
One aspect of the reforms that the Government has been criticised for is the decision not to make pro bono performance a mandatory requirement. Under the new system, firms must indicate whether they have signed on to the National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s aspirational target of 35 hours of pro bono work per lawyer per year.
If they have not, they are encouraged to nominate a target of between 5 and 15 per cent of the income they anticipate to derive from the government work for pro bono services.
The Commonwealth has not, however, emulated the Victorian Government, which makes it a contractual requirement for a firm to spend between 5 and 15 per cent of the income received from the Government work on pro bono matters.
Carroll, however, supports the government’s position. “Having the express obligation [for agencies] to have regard to the amount and type of pro bono work that people have signed up to, and to assess what they are doing and what they are committed to, is a very important step for improving the culture of pro bono,” he said.
“From the view point of the Attorney-General, the objective is to get the most significant take-up of pro bono across the legal profession. Sending such a clear message that people are expected, firstly, to have a significant pro bono practice, and secondly, to have either achieved, or be on the path to achieving, the target, is much more likely to achieve that overall objective… than simply tying [pro bono] to the amount of legal work you get from one client.”