Disputes with governmentsDealing with government can be like trying to find your way in a maze without a map. To succeed you need to know who you are dealing with, the department, the policies, procedures, and the relevant authorities which govern your contract.Disputes with government arise for all the same reasons as private enterprise, however, there is the added complication of the size and diversity of interests which can increase the time delays in obtaining approvals for a project and final payment.

Case Study

BackgroundThe state emergency service, together with the Police and Fire Brigade, provides immediate response to disasters. Depending on the type of incident there may be several state services working together to address the problem. Their primary concern is to protect the citizens from injury or death and secondly, to protect property. Emergency services respond quickly and have a wide range of powers to use local infrastructure to assist in getting the job done.

During one such disaster the emergency services used several premises owned by George Brown for boarding their staff and housing equipment. The Emergency Services agreed to pay for the use of the facilities, and the cost of repairs to several walls damaged by their employees.

The DisputeThree state emergency services were involved. Invoices were prepared and forwarded for payment, however, after four months George had not been paid and he was unable to find out who in government was responsible.

George had taken the names of the officers in charge but not the units they belonged to or where they were based.

The FactsThe accommodation and damages claims were genuine. The three government services were legally responsible.

The ProcessThe state department for small business made a visit to the area to survey the impact of the disaster on the business community and George made representations regarding the outstanding invoice. The client manager, Barry Rush, realised the impact of non payment for a small business and agreed to act as an advocate.

George did not know how to go about finding who was responsible for processing his invoices. Having worked with the government for many years Barry realised his first task was to receive full details of the situation leading to the agreement with the three emergency services, including dates, contact names, services used, repair bills, etc.

Barry contacted the three emergency services and was able to find the person responsible for approving this expenditure by starting with the head office of each department. This was not easy and required persistence to identify those responsible. The original invoices were located, however no action had been taken because they were outside the norm and no one knew how to handle them.

The Mediated OutcomeThe invoices were paid in full.

Lessons to be learntWhen dealing with bureaucracies, try to keep records of the names of all people and government departments you deal with. Seek advice from the departments on how they handle accounts. Find out about the department’s or agency’s complaint handling procedures and where to/how to complain or lodge a dispute. If you can’t get a satisfactory response then complain to the Ombudsman.

NOTE (1) There are Administrative Appeals Tribunals in the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria & the ACT to review, on their merits, certain decisions by governments’ administrative authorities & officials. They can exercise the powers of the original decision-maker & make a wide variety of orders.

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