The Federation Press

Government Contracts

Federal, State and Local


Government Contracts 5th edition is the new edition of a work that has now been in existence for some seventeen years. It is Australia’s definitive legal text on all levels of government contracting, which focuses on the legal issues that may arise in connection with government contracts and which have no parallel in the private sector.

It explains the law in a manner that government contract managers, and their private sector counterparts doing business with government, will find indispensable. Presented in plain English, it is equally accessible to lay readers and lawyers. Law students will also benefit from the up to date case law, relevant policy developments and legislation relating to government contracting, including procurement and outsourcing.

Authoritative and respected, Government Contracts has been referred to in State and Federal court cases, in the High Court and in government policy documents.

New material in this 5th edition includes:

  • the application of, and exemption from, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) and the accompanying Australian Consumer Law to government at all three levels;
  • a new section in Chapter 6 covers the application of the troublesome proportionate liability law to government at all levels;
  • the impact of the High Court’s decisions in Pape and Williams on the Commonwealth’s spending power;
  • coverage of the High Court’s decision in Port of Portland Pty Ltd v Victoria;
  • the anomalies created in New South Wales and Queensland by legislation that removes corporate status from local government bodies;
  • treatment of tendering in Chapters 7 and 8 draws on new Australian case law and cases from other countries with similar legal systems to Australia, in particular Canada.

As always with Seddon’s work, a careful re-consideration of every aspect of the book has been undertaken providing clarity and comprehensive sources for the reader. This new edition is current to 30 November 2012 and is an indispensable resource for lawyers, government contract managers and their private sector counterparts.


Reviews of previous editions:An excellent reference for those in the business supplying goods and services to government, both in terms of being up to date on the latest changes in law, and for anyone seeking to contrust a practical checklist on any part of the contracting process. - David Parker, Law Institute Journal of Victoria, November 2009

Dr Seddon has put together in the one readable volume the legal principles and case law (almost all of which was handed down in the last 25 years) to produce a mini-encyclopaedia on the subject. For those working in the area, it is well worth acquiring. - (2005) 79 Australian Law Journal

This third edition indicates just how much the whole process of government contracting has developed over the nine years since the first edition appeared. - Public Administration Today, July-Oct 2005

The third edition of this book provides a comprehensive coverage of issues that arise when contracting with all levels of government in Australia. The risks specific to government contracts that are covered include the power of government to contract; Crown privileges and immunities; and the ability of governments to override contracts through legislation. The author also deals extensively with governmental tenders and administrative law remedies. This edition introduces new issues, including how the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement will affect Australian government procurement; political interference in the government contracting process; and the distinction between statutory licences and government contracts. ... The book is clearly written and easy to read. It will be invaluable to any practitioner engaged in negotiating contracts with any level of government. The author highlights areas of the law of contracting with government that remain uncertain, which should assist practitioners in assessing specific risks and drafting contracts accordingly. - Law Institute Journal (Vic), Vol 79(4), April 2005

This work, an intensive account of a specialist area of contract law, is in its third edition in less than nine years. That is in itself a considerable recommendation about the quality of this book and its usefulness. It is written by Dr Nicholas Seddon, a co-author of Cheshire and Fifoot’s Australian edition. It was written for a specialist Australian legal audience but I expect it to be of interest to public servants and lawyers in other jurisdictions. It is now a work of some 400 pages.
It may well turn out to be of greater interest to lawyers who practice in other areas of contract and commercial law than they might initially expect. The law relating to government contracts (to use a contemporary analogy) lies between the grinding tectonic plates of contract, administrative law and complex legislation. The result of these tensions is a sense of very rapid state of development of legal ideas in these areas. ...
Quite apart from general revision and accounts of recent case law, the third edition covers areas absent from the previous editions including the Free Trade Agreement, the role of political interference in government decision making, the distinction between a statutory licence and a contract and an expanded discussion of when legalisation does or does not bind government entities.
This text is an authoritative account of an important area of contract is unlikely to be surpassed for many years. It deals with an area of the law that is likely to increase rapidly in importance over the next decade and would be a valuable addition to the library of any practitioner specialising in commercial law. - (2005) 26 Qld Lawyer

In the construction industry, government’s role and influence are more and more akin to those of a commercial enterprise. Accordingly, ... Mr Seddon’s second edition is both topical and valuable.
Tendering is the commercial threshold of construction projects yet it is ill-understood and often badly done. Mr Seddon’s deep insight into both the problems and important lessons to be learnt will be especially appreciated. ... - Building & Construction Law Journal, February 2000 is a very user-friendly text ... illustrating once again that a brilliant mosaic of our law is extremely interesting when the spotlight is put upon a little section of it. - Justice Michael Kirby, Australian Law Journal

...the explanations are admirably lucid and concise, and overall the book provides an excellent, accessible and well structured account of the relevant principles of law. - Professor Sue Arrowsmith

Table of Contents

The Uses of Contract by Governments

The Application of Contract Law to Government Contracts
The Government's Use of Contract
The Erosion of Remedies and Accountability
Free Trade Agreements and Government Procurement

The Government's Power to Contract

The Commonwealth
The States and Territories
Statutory Corporations and Local Government
The Consequences of Lack of Power

Contract Formation

Intention to Create Legal Relations
Statutory Agreements
Authority to Contract on Behalf of Government
Authority to Contract and Statutory Corporations
Failure to Appropriate Funds

Government Privileges and Immunities

Government Bodies as Legal Entities
The Different Meanings of "The Crown"
Statutory Bodies and the Shield of the Crown
Private Bodies and the Shield of the Crown
Government Privileges and Immunities

Executive Necessity, the Rule Against Fettering and Legislative Overriding of Contract

Contract and Future Government Action
The Doctrine of Executive Necessity
The Primacy of Legislation
The Rule against Fettering Future Executive Action
The Rule against Fettering Legislative Action
Legislative Overriding of an Existing Contract
The Effect on the Contract
Government Effectiveness and Estoppel

The Government and Competition and Consumer Legislation

The Competition and Consumer Scheme
The Legislation and Government
Carrying on a Business
The Consequences of Exemption
Proportionate liability


Contractual Analysis of Tenders
The Pre-Award Period
Misleading or Negligent Conduct
Administrative Law Challenges
Access to Information

Administrative Law Remedies

The Availability of Administrative Law Remedies
The Grounds for Review
The Ombudsman
Access to Information


Of interest...