Australian firms lure arbitration to Sydney

Six of Australia's 10 largest firms have joined forces to promote Sydney as a prime centre for international arbitration in the Asia-Pacific

Allens Arthur Robinson, Freehills, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Minter Ellison, Blake Dawson Waldron and Clayton Utz are sponsoring an exhibition at the International Bar Association conference on 13 February 2003.

“We've got together to market the city as a place which is impartial and arbitration-friendly, but cheaper than a number of other cities, such as London and Singapore, that are well known for it,” said Jonathan Atkin, managing partner of Blake Dawson.

The firms are seeking to attract foreign parties to the centre, as well as acting for Australian companies of government bodies in disputes with other nationals. They are also lobbying local government to help fund the project, as well as to change income tax laws to put the centre on a level playing field with other arbitration centres. Singapore, for example, has exempted foreign arbitrators from withholding tax.

However, a lack of international prominence disadvantages Australian firms. “Most of the players in the Asian, US or UK markets are recognised by international in-house counsel, but they've never heard of Australian firms,” said a partner at a firm not involved in the pitch. The geographical problem is another potential hindrance to the firms.