Herbies teams up with Minters for Aussie smartcard scheme

Herbert Smith has scored its first instruction from the Australian government, aided by a personal relationship with a partner at Minter Ellison.

The City and Australian firms are collaborating on a A$1bn (£404.36m) project to roll out access cards to 20-million Australians by 2010 in an attempt to streamline the existing complicated access to benefits and healthcare.

Antipodean heavyweight Minters frequently acts for the government, but according to former London managing partner Michael Whalley the size of the smartcard project meant it needed help from a firm with relevant experience.

In the search for a suitable collaborator, Whalley came across Herbert Smith partner Christopher Rees, his former colleague at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer 30 years ago. Since then Rees has built up a formidable IT and e-commerce team, which won an instruction last August from London Underground on outsourcing its Oyster Card system.

Herbert Smith and Minters have enjoyed mutual referral work from clients such as British American Tobacco and Westpac Banking Corporation.

The team, with Oliver Barrett leading the Minters cohort, scooped the instruction in a beauty parade, beating off Australian powerhouses including Clayton Utz and Mallesons Stephen Jaques.

Although Minters will work exclusively on the statutory aspects, it is not yet clear how the project will be divided between the two firms. KPMG and Booz Allen Hamilton are also being consulted by the government.

There is public concern over the access cards’ data protection, a specialist area for Rees. The smartcard will contain biometric details and will centralise information for Australians who currently carry up to 17 different cards to access benefits. Rees said: “It will be privacy-enhancing with just one secure database rather than a series that may be inaccurate.”