Reshaping government legal services in the public interest

How to best provide legal services to the public sector is a question being struggled with by governments everywhere. In determining structural questions such as centralisation and contestability, the government must consider not just value for money, but independence and the public interest, Gabrielle Appleby writes.

On July 1, the Australian Government Solicitor was brought back into the fold of the Attorney-General’s Department having spent one and half decades as an independent statutory agency and Government Business Enterprise. This consolidation was announced in December 2014 as part of the government’s Smaller Government initiative. The purpose of the consolidation was to “reduce overheads from operating a separate bureaucratic structure” while also “strengthen[ing] the flexibility within the department for officers to work across both legal advice and legal policy.”

Following the consolidation, the government has also announced a review of government legal services by Chris Moraitis, secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, to “identify efficiencies that can be gained in government legal costs”. This was further explained:

“The review will encompass the role of in-house legal practices in Commonwealth departments and agencies, including how in-house advice is organised, to ensure more coordinated and aligned advice to the Government in the future. The review will look to the Commonwealth legal services market as a whole and ultimately seek to deliver the best outcomes for the Government from the full array of legal services available.”

The terms of reference for this review are still being formulated. While there have been some reassurances that there will be consultation with government and private sector stakeholders, there has been no information as to how that will occur.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.