The Office of General Counsel (OGC) is the Commonwealth's primary adviser on constitutional law, statutory interpretation, legislative development, drafting, reform and implementation and represents the Commonwealth in constitutional litigation.
OGC is led by Leo Hardiman and an eminent team of practitioners including Guy Aitken, Andrew Buckland, Damian Page, Kathryn Graham, Genevieve Ebbeck and Bridget Gilmour-Walsh, with former Chief General Counsel Robert Orr PSM QC and Deputy Government Solicitor David Bennett QC available on a consultancy basis for particular matters. OGC specialises in the provision of legal advice and assistance to the Commonwealth on constitutional and public law, statutory interpretation, the development, implementation and administration of legislation and legal issues spanning the spectrum of the Commonwealth's activities across all portfolios.
The office also specialises in acting for the Commonwealth in primarily High Court constitutional litigation and coordinating the conduct of other cases involving constitutional issues. In consultation with the Solicitor-General, OGC also advises on whether the Attorney-General should intervene in constitutional litigation matters. As well as key expertise in constitutional law, statutory interpretation, administrative law, law-making and interpretation and public international law, OGC's more than 70 lawyers have specific subject matter expertise in a wide range of areas, including the Commonwealth financial framework, defence, education, employment and workplace relations, energy, environmental law, immigration, health, machinery of government, native title, public governance and accountability and national security.
Leo has more than 25 years of experience in government legal work. A specialist in constitutional law, statutory interpretation, Commonwealth financial and taxation law, and the machinery of government, he has advised on numerous significant legislative schemes, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme. His particular expertise in tax law led him to be outposted to the Australian Taxation Office as leader of its legal services group for 2 years.
|Emma D'Arcy, Counsel, Canberra
'AGS offered a great opportunity to work in public law. I've had the opportunity to work closely with the policy team and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on a legislative reform project that will make a positive difference to people's lives. Working with my AGS and in-house colleagues on challenging and interesting matters is the most rewarding part of my job.'
|Michael O'Rourke, Counsel, Canberra
'When I worked in an agency, we often sought advice from different legal service providers, including AGS. I particularly enjoyed working with AGS lawyers. I found them very easy to work with. Their knowledge of the law and of the workings of government was impressive. This seemed like an excellent place to work. Learning about what goes on behind the scenes in government – for example, how policy is developed and how legislation is made, and how parliamentary and Cabinet processes work – has been very interesting. Other OGC lawyers are very easy to work with and have a high degree of legal expertise, and there's a lot I still have to learn from them. Our clients are experts in their areas of law or public policy, and are easy and enjoyable to work with.'
|Brendan Watts, Counsel, Canberra
'I was always interested in constitutional law and public law more generally. Working in OGC allows me to practise in these areas. The most satisfying aspect of my work is interacting with clients and assisting them to achieve the Commonwealth's policy objectives. One of the best things about OGC is that you're continually learning.'
|Sam Arnold, Counsel, Canberra
'I work with a lot of old and complicated statutes, so probably the most satisfaction I get is when I'm able to work out exactly what a problematic provision means. It's kind of like solving a really difficult word puzzle. We can't always give definitive answers on ambiguous legislation so it's particularly satisfying when we can deliver a clear solution to an interpretation problem for a client.'
AGS Dispute Resolution specialises in resolving and managing disputes – through alternative dispute resolution (including mediation, arbitration and conciliation) and litigation. We act in all types of matters – from small claims and disputes, to the largest and most sensitive litigation matters the Commonwealth is involved in.
Our substantial practice, with more than 190 lawyers, undertakes strategic review and legal analysis; assessment of dispute resolution options; collection and analysis of facts and evidence; liaison with medical and expert witnesses; preparation of court documents and case management plans; court appearances; selection, briefing and management of counsel; and representation of clients in settlement conferences and mediations.
AGS Dispute Resolution is led by National Group Leader Matthew Blunn, with the support of expert litigators and advisers, including Tom Howe PSM QC, Simon Daley PSM, Paul Vermeesch, Tim Begbie, Damien O'Donovan, Andrew Berger, Glenn Owbridge PSM, Catherine Leslie, Matthew Walsh and Richard Harding.
Matthew has a diverse background in litigation, with a strong emphasis on competition law. He has conducted a range of significant trade practices matters, including litigation for the ACCC (on matters involving cartel conduct, misleading and deceptive conduct, and mergers). He has advised the Commonwealth on competition issues that affect the delivery of health services reform and also the rollout of the NBN. Matthew has also acted in significant Administrative Decision (Judicial Review) Act 1977 matters in which the decisions being reviewed concern the application of competition law and policy.
Senior Lawyer, Melbourne
'I worked as an administrative lawyer in a private firm, but I always knew that I wanted to work at AGS. AGS had all the best and most interesting administrative law cases and I was always impressed by the quality of AGS lawyers. Appearing as solicitor-advocate is always a highlight. I think it is the most challenging part of my role as an administrative and dispute resolution lawyer, but it is definitely the most rewarding. Working on high-profile cases is also a highlight because you know you are doing something which is in the public interest. AGS has a truly collegiate culture. People here are enthusiastic about bringing the best out of every AGS lawyer and working with clients in the public interest. Lawyers here genuinely love what they do and the people they work with, so it's always an engaging place to be.'
'My most interesting matter to date was an urgent application in the Fair Work Commission to suspend proposed industrial action in Australia's airports. I had the opportunity to work with some great lawyers. Helping them bring the case together in a very tight timeframe was a terrific learning experience. As a junior lawyer at AGS I have had some great opportunities. Within a few months of being admitted, I regularly communicated with clients and opposing parties, drafted advices and court documents, and appeared in the Federal Court.
'The nature of dispute resolution work is very exciting, and the chance to work on such fascinating matters is what makes AGS such a unique and fantastic place. My Dispute Resolution colleagues care very deeply for their clients and getting the right outcome for them.'
Senior Executive Lawyer, Brisbane
'My most interesting matter to date has been the Shen Neng 1 litigation. It has been an incredible experience not just because it involves the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park but because of the legal issues, which are complex. I am very fortunate to work with a very talented team of people in the Brisbane office who are committed to a standard of excellence, whether it be in their legal work, client service or service support for AGS.
AGS Commercial's 60+ lawyers are expert in advising on taxation, information and communication technology projects, grants and funding, consumer and competition issues, intellectual property, media and communications, environment and resources, State/Territory and intergovernmental agreements, infrastructure projects, construction, property and leasing, insurance, banking and finance, procurement, tendering and contracting, probity and risk management.
We operate as a national practice, with lawyers in all State and Territory capitals, and work closely with AGS Dispute Resolution and the Office of General Counsel to deliver an integrated legal service on commercial projects.
Our National Group Leader, Adrian Snooks, is assisted by a highly experienced team of General Counsel, including Linda Richardson PSM (Chief Counsel Commercial), Cathy Reid (Deputy Chief Counsel Commercial), Paul Lang RFD, Tony Beal, Simon Konecny and Andrew Miles (Deputy Counsels Commercial).
Adrian is a highly experienced adviser on strategic procurement, intellectual property and technology projects. He has negotiated the $1.5 trillion Joint Strike Fighter memorandum of understanding, the Australian Government's International Communications Network, the Emergency Alert telecommunications warning system, the development of the National Broadband Network and the $100 million Passport Redevelopment Project for DFAT. He was chief legal adviser to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011 and head of the AGS team for the G20 meetings in 2014. An expert in the area of intellectual property and technology law, Adrian advises clients on social media engagement, Creative Commons, open-source software licensing and cloud computing. He was the lead author of the Australian Government Information Management Office's Better Practice Guide on legal issues in cloud computing.
Senior Lawyer, Melbourne
'My most interesting matter to date was the Commonwealth's disposal of the former Point Nepean quarantine station site to the State of Victoria. The unique history and use of this 90-hectare site presented some interesting legal and policy challenges to work through in getting ready for the transfer. I would describe the atmosphere at AGS as strong, supportive, astute, innovative and collaborative.'
Senior Lawyer, Canberra
'The most surprising thing I've learnt as a lawyer is to listen. AGS has taught me it's critical to listen to, and understand, our clients' needs. To me, this is an AGS lawyer's most important skill. My AGS Commercial colleagues are approachable and focused on practical solutions. They are keen to personally know our clients so we can develop the type of relationship that allows us to jointly deliver practical outcomes to their issues.'
Senior Legal Assistant, Canberra
'How would I describe my AGS Commercial colleagues? Friendly, supportive and always happy to share a joke. I was constantly told what a great place it was to work and I haven't been disappointed.'
Senior Executive Lawyer, Perth
'A hallmark of practising at AGS is a focus on quality and client service – I've always felt that. A favourite memory is working with ATSIC on the emu farm project in Wiluna (my first trip to the outback). Flying there in a light plane and landing on an airstrip in the middle of nowhere was quite an experience. On a more serious note, it was a great opportunity to get to really understand the client and the transaction – which is so important when looking to provide a client with the best legal service both on the particular matter and into the future.
On 2 May 2016, the Australian Government Solicitor Ian Govey AM retired.
On Ian's last day in the office, Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) Chris Moraitis PSM outlined the immense impact Ian had during his long and illustrious career, noting that '…with more than 4 decades of dedicated public service, the numbers speak for themselves. Ian has served under 9 departmental secretaries, 16 Attorneys-General and 10 Prime Ministers.'
Ian's career journey began in 1974. After graduating from the University of Adelaide, he had every intention of pursuing a career in private practice, until a chance conversation with a friend saw him shift his attention to the public sector. He relocated to Canberra, and took up a graduate position at AGD.
During the early half of his career, Ian was head of AGD's Corporations Law Simplification Taskforce; Counsellor (Legal) in the Australian Embassy in Washington DC; and First Assistant Secretary, AGD Business Affairs Division.
He went on to be the inaugural First Assistant Secretary, Office of Legal Services Coordination, then Deputy Secretary, Civil Justice and Legal Services where he covered a broad remit – Commonwealth legal services, Federal courts and tribunals, alternative dispute resolution, international law, legal assistance, human rights, family law, administrative law, copyright, personal property securities and native title.
In 2010, he became Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Government Solicitor's office – a role that was renamed 'the Australian Government Solicitor' last year, and to which he was appointed.
In 2015, Ian was interviewed for a profile on AGD's intranet. He was asked about his career to date, and had the following to say about his time at AGS:
'Being the CEO of AGS has certainly been a highlight – running an organisation that performs such a central role for the Government. AGS does such terrific work and has some interesting challenges which are, of course, essential for a good job.
Working for government can be very rewarding. We ultimately work in the public interest, and are not driven by the profit motive. I think that at the end of the day this is what people find motivating about working for government. The work is intrinsically interesting, particularly with the interaction with government and the way in which polices are developed and law reform is undertaken.
There are very few government policies and programs that are implemented without some form of legal advice from AGS. We have had close involvement, for example, in water reform, the carbon tax, gambling reform, energy market reform, migration law and asylum seekers and live animal exports. Then we are involved in the constitutional challenges, such as the Williams case on the power of the Commonwealth to spend money and the plain packaging of tobacco case. We are also Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.'
Aside from his work for the Commonwealth, Ian also made a broader contribution to federal law and legal administration through his membership of several law-related organisations. He continues to be a member of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration and the Australasian Legal Information Institute.
His contribution to public service throughout his career was aptly recognised by the Award of Member of the Order of Australia he received last year. His citation reads: 'for his significant service to public administration and to the law, as a leader in the provision of government legal services and to professional organisations'.
Ian took a very strong interest in the care and development of AGS people. He was a regular visitor to AGS's regional offices, recognising staff for their contributions to client care and their service to AGS. He encouraged investment in the lawyer development program, to attract and retain the best graduates and junior lawyers for the future.
Ian also put great effort and enthusiasm into building AGS's networks with clients and the legal profession throughout Australia. He emphasised our role in support of the Attorney-General and the Government of the day – that AGS was not just 'another legal provider'.
We thank Ian for his many contributions to AGS, AGD, the Commonwealth and the broader community. We wish him all the best in retirement, and eagerly look forward to seeing where he chooses to focus his impressive energy and intellect in the years to come.
AGS employs 646 people; 309 are located in Canberra and the rest are based in our offices in State and Territory capitals across Australia.
A flexible and people-focused work environment is a key attraction for AGS staff. We also greatly appreciate the privileged role we occupy – being involved in the interesting and rewarding legal work on offer, while contributing to the public interest.
In addition to the APS Code of Conduct and APS values, AGS adheres to a set of organisational values which shape the way we approach our work, our clients, and our AGS colleagues.
Integrity – honest and impartial dealings with others, treat all people with respect
Professionalism – excellence in all aspects of our work
Commitment to the public good – assist clients to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the Government
Collegiality – work collaboratively as one national team.
According to the Office of Legal Services Coordination (OLSC) Legal Services Expenditure Report 2014–15, AGS remains a strong and respected legal services provider, with a reported 38% share of Commonwealth legal services expenditure (professional fees) in 2014–15. Our legal expertise and value for money are recognised by our clients. We continue to be the legal service supplier most often relied upon by Commonwealth Government agencies.
|Other top 10 firms (16%)|
|Remaining providers (46%)|
Source: OLSC Legal Services Expenditure Report 2014–15
How our clients rate us
AGS runs a regular nation-wide independent survey of close to 1,500 Commonwealth clients. The survey focuses on key performance attributes ranging from our legal expertise, depth of team and understanding of our clients' business to the quality of our relationship management, responsiveness and ease of doing business. In this survey we also ask clients to rate and comment on our commerciality, value for money and other aspects of the financial and administrative management of their matters.
In 2015, the AGS Client Survey results showed an overall rating of 7.95 out of 10 for client satisfaction, reflecting the continuation of an upward trend seen in recent years. We also learned that 96% of our clients are satisfied with AGS's performance.
Most notable was a 48% increase in the proportion of our clients rating AGS's overall performance as 'excellent' (from 29% to 43% of all respondents).
We rated well on many key attributes, including legal expertise, quality of relationship, ease of doing business with, responsiveness and understanding of clients' business. Our average rating for each of these attributes was more than 8 out of 10.
Cost management is a critical aspect of service delivery – not just in legal services but right across the spectrum of professional services. AGS's performance in this area consistently rates close to 7 out of 10 in client surveys, and we are striving to achieve even better results. Listening and responding to our clients is an important facet of our approach to service. We welcome feedback about how we can support our clients, including in managing costs.
Did you know?
56% of our full-time employees are lawyers, and 44% are legal support and corporate staff
69% of AGS workers are female
60% of our lawyers are female
48% of our senior executive lawyers are female
20% of the AGS workforce is part time, and 91% of our part-timers are women
In 2016 15 law graduates commenced the AGS Graduate Program.