On Monday, senior officials from the Attorney-General’s Department refused to accept blame for the blowout, even though it sets the rules for spending. They told a Senate Estimates hearing they had been working with the Australian National Audit Office on the inquiry.
In September, a report by prominent lawyer Sue Tongue found legal expenditure had grown $100 million in four years and that “a surprising number of agencies” were unable to give figures for legal costs.
“The primary responsibility for justifying expenditure and ensuring that there is value for money is a matter for each agency,” Attorney-General’s Department general manager of civil justice and legal services Ian Govey said.
“In an overall sense we would say that, if there is something that we can do to help the process from, if you like, a good governance perspective, we would do that. That is what we have done by facilitating the involvement of the ANAO.”
As part of its inquiry, the Auditor-General is likely to examine the management of contracts for the provision of legal services, the cost, quality and timeliness of legal services, and the extent to which risks are assessed and managed.
Mr Govey said he hoped the Auditor-General would establish best practice standards and guidance to departments and agencies on spending on lawyers.
At the hearing, officials of the Attorney-General’s Department were asked why the government had rejected a recommendation by the Australian Law Reform Commission in January 2000 that departments and the Attorney-General itemise in annual reports spending on legal services.