A government policy that effectively excludes commercial affairs lawyers from government departments would make the job of those lawyers harder and would undermine their ability to negotiate with the Government, a senior government lawyer told the ABC.
The Government’s “commercial affairs” section in the Australian Government’s constitution is intended to ensure that its departments operate in a manner that is consistent with the principles of the law.
Commercial affairs lawyers are the lawyers who are supposed to represent the interests of businesses in the lawmaking process.
The term is not a technical legal term but a way of describing the lawyers’ role in negotiating a deal with the government.
The Australian Government does not have commercial affairs officers, nor does it employ commercial affairs consultants.
The government’s “Commercial Affairs” section is not technically legal, but it is used to ensure departments operate within the law, says David Giesbrecht, the former head of the Federal Court of Australia.
“It’s just a legal term,” Mr Giesbeth said.
“The legal term is commercial affairs counsel.”
The Government should also drop the section, Mr Gysbrecht said, as it is not legally enforceable.
Commercial Affairs counsel, a term that is not legal, means a person who represents a business, and not just a business client, and is responsible for negotiating the terms of a contract between the business and the government, according to the Federal Government’s own website.
Commercial matters lawyers are often required to negotiate their clients’ interests with the federal government, a fact that has drawn criticism from lawyers.
In January, former chief justice of the High Court Michael Gaudron said the Government’s Commercial Affairs section was an “open secret” that had not been made clear to the public.
Mr Giesbecht said there was no legal justification for the commercial affairs section, which has existed since 2007.
“I think the commercial issue is one that should be looked at carefully by the Government,” Mr Janssen said.”[But] I would not have done that if I was in government.”
Commercial affairs counsel can be hired by a company or a private organisation, and are required to take on a contract for a term of a fixed term of 12 months, but the Government can make exceptions to that.
The Commercial Affairs department said the policy was meant to help reduce the cost of negotiating contracts with government departments, but critics say the policy has had the opposite effect.
“We’re in a situation where the government is being forced to make decisions for a whole range of departments in a way that they are not able to do, particularly on behalf of a private business,” Mr Murchison said.
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