Acting for the Commonwealth

Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

AGS represented the Commonwealth at the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, which concluded its hearings on 27 May 2010 after 155 days of hearings, 434 witnesses, 1,000 exhibits and more than 20,000 pages of transcript.

The Attorney-General's Department retained AGS Melbourne to assist with the Commonwealth's representation. Senior Executive Lawyer Emily Nance instructed senior counsel and counsel who appeared before the Commission.

The Commonwealth provided a range of witnesses, submissions and briefings to the Commission. AGS's role included preparing statements for Commonwealth witnesses from various agencies, including the Bureau of Meteorology, Attorney-General's Department, Centrelink, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Department of Defence, Geoscience Australia, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, the Australian Energy Regulator and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

The Commonwealth also provided information regarding its role in the response to and recovery from the bushfires, the economic cost of the bushfires and its implementation of the Commission's interim recommendations.

Ashmore Reef Inquest

AGS acted for the Commonwealth, instructed by Defence, Customs and the Australian Federal Police, in an Inquest before the Northern Territory Coroner into the deaths of 5 foreign nationals who had been on board a people-smuggling vessel known as SIEV 36.

The boat was intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy near Ashmore Reef on 15 April 2009 and experienced a major explosion the next day while under Navy escort, resulting in the deaths and a number of serious injuries.

AGS drafted witness statements, prepared witnesses for giving evidence and also prepared successful applications for protective orders over sensitive national security information. The Inquest's findings were handed down by the Coroner on 17 March 2010. Among other things, the Coroner found that the vessel had been sabotaged by some of those on board.

Senior Executive Lawyer Justine Knowles and Lawyer Anthea Treilibs led the AGS team, which moved to Darwin during the Inquest, and drew on the expertise of approximately 20 legal, paralegal, specialist and support employees in AGS's Canberra, Darwin, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney offices.

Montara Inquiry

AGS acted for the Commission of Inquiry into the uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons from the Montara oilfield located in the Timor Sea in the offshore area of the Ashmore and Cartier islands in the Northern Territory. Chief Counsel Litigation Tom Howe QC and Senior General Counsel Andrew Berger performed the role of counsel assisting the Inquiry and Senior Lawyer Joanna Blair performed the role of solicitor assisting.

The uncontrolled release at the Montara oilfield was the first offshore well blowout in 25 years. It is estimated that between 400 and 1,500 barrels of oil and gas were released from the well every day for 10 weeks from 21 August 2009, making it the third largest oil spill in Australia.

Public hearings were held as part of the Commission of Inquiry process. The hearings commenced on 15 March 2010 and ran for 5 weeks. The Inquiry heard from a number of witnesses, including officers from the companies involved and several government agencies.

Issues considered by the Inquiry included the circumstances and likely causes of the uncontrolled release, the adequacy and effectiveness of the regulatory regime applicable to the offshore petroleum industry, the adequacy and effectiveness of the response to the release, and its environmental impacts.

This is an extract from the 2009–10 AGS annual report