20 August 2019

Australian law firm embroiled in political probe

DWF finds itself drawn into probe of senior politician as critics ask questions about her links to the firm and work earning over A$5m in government fees, according to media reports.

Brisbane law firm DWF, which has a stakeholder trust in which Australian deputy premier Jackie Trad is a shareholder, received almost A$5.4 million in state government fees for its involvement in worker compensation cases last financial year, state reports in the Australian media.

"Implications" rejected

DWF Australia, which Ms Trad's husband Damien van Brunschot also does legal work for, received $5,396,000 in legal fees in 2018-19 from WorkCover Queensland, the newspaper states. According to the Register of Members' Interests, Ms Trad has declared one of her private trusts, The VB Practice Trust, as a shareholder in DWF Australia. DWF AsiaPac Australian chairman Mark Hickey has issued a statement, rejecting “any implication of improper process in our firm's appointment to the legal services panels WorkCover Queensland, an independent statutory authority.” Mr Hickey stated, “Reporting around this issue has been misleading and is damaging. In response it’s important to note: DWF is not part owned by the Queensland government Deputy Premier,” adding DWF is a global legal business with over 300 principals around the world, of whom Damien van Brunschot is just one.” He explained, “The fees DWF receives as a result of the current WorkCover relationship are consistent with those earned in prior years and under previous governments.”

Lawyer husband

Critics say they are looking for clarification of how much Ms Trad has benefited from the law firm's state government contracts, and whether she is a beneficiary of the work undertaken by DWF Australia through state government contracts. Others have called for her to be sacked. Regarding her husband’s involvement, a spokesman for the deputy premier's office said Mr van Brunschot had worked for WorkCover Queensland since before he married Ms Trad. Mr van Brunschot, said he had represented WorkCover since the late 1990s. “The deputy premier’s Register of Interests has reflected her husband’s legal practice since she was first elected to parliament in 2012,” the spokesman said. He explained, “At all times, the deputy premier has removed herself from any government decisions involving WorkCover to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest.” Mr Hickey said several of DWF’s principals provided WorkCover services as part of a team of about 30, “Damien van Brunschot is among the leading experts in this specialist area of law, and as such along with other colleagues has provided services to the statutory authority since the late nineties under successive Queensland governments.”