International arbitration continues to play an increasingly important role in Australia. In this note we canvass some of the key developments in the international arbitration space in 2020, including:

  • Recent judicial support for international arbitration and the enforcement of arbitral awards, reaffirming Australian courts’ pro-arbitration stance.
  • Australia’s ratification of the Mauritius Convention, the recently announced review of Australia’s 15 bilateral trade agreements, and investor-state arbitrations initiated by Australian companies.
  • The impacts of COVID-19 and the associated prevalence of virtual hearings.
  • The Singapore Convention, establishing an international regime for the enforcement of settlements reached through mediation, which came into force in September this year.

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The Australian Federal Government has announced it is reviewing the bilateral investment treaties (BITs) to which Australia is a party.

BITs are typically entered into to promote and protect investments made between the BIT partner States. To that end, Australia is party to 15 BITs with each of Argentina, China, Czech Republic, Egypt, Hungary, Laos, Lithuania, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Uruguay.

These BITs typically contain provisions requiring Australia (and its counterpart) to: treat foreign investors fairly and equitably; not expropriate the foreign investor’s investment without adequate compensation; provide protection and security to the foreign investor’s investment; honour written agreements between the host State and foreign investors; not treat the foreign investors from the partner State any less favourably than investors from the host State or a third party State; and allow free transfer of funds related to an investment in and out of the State.

Presently, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is seeking submissions by 30 September 2020 on, among other things:

  • the utility of BITs to Australian investors operating overseas;
  • the impact of BITs on foreign investment;
  • concerns with the provisions on BITs presently in force;
  • provisions in BITs which should be renegotiated; and
  • whether the BITs should be terminated.

This community engagement follows on from continued public debate in Australia (which we have commented upon previously) regarding the “investor-state dispute settlement” (or “ISDS”) provisions commonly found in BITs.  Some critics have argued these ISDS provisions, which enable arbitration proceedings to be commenced by foreign investors against Australia, give rise to an unjustified risk of costly and time-consuming arbitration claims made by investors.

The submissions will inform the Government’s position on whether to continue, amend, renegotiate or terminate the BITs to which Australia is a party, or replace them with comprehensive free trade agreements (which may or may not include ISDS provisions). We will issue an update once the submissions are published on DFAT’s website.

For more information, please contact Brenda Horrigan, Head of International Arbitration (Australia), Leon Chung, Partner, Chad Catterwell, Partner, Imogen Kenny, Solicitor, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Brenda Horrigan
Brenda Horrigan
Head of International Arbitration (Australia)
+61 2 9225 5536
Leon Chung
Leon Chung
+61 2 9225 5716
Chad Catterwell
Chad Catterwell
+61 3 9288 1498
Imogen Kenny
Imogen Kenny
+61 3 9288 1657


Head of Herbert Smith Freehills’ Global Arbitration Practice, Paula Hodges QC, has officially begun her Presidency of the LCIA Court. Lauded by the legal directories as “brilliant” and the “most complete arbitration practitioner in London”, Paula has over 25 years’ experience advising clients in international disputes, particularly in the energy, telecommunications and technology sectors. Paula has been Vice President of the Court for several years and also a LCIA Board member for a decade.  Paula has taken over the role from outgoing President Judith Gill QC in May 2019 and will continue in practice at Herbert Smith Freehills whilst undertaking her new LCIA responsibilities.

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In an important and clarifying decision, the High Court of Australia has handed down its decision in Rinehart & Anor v Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd & Ors.1

The decision is significant for the conduct of international arbitration in Australia because:

  1. the High Court held that the phrase “any dispute under this deed” in an arbitration clause was sufficiently broad in the context of the deeds in question to encompass disputes about the validity of the arbitration agreement as well as substantive claims; and
  2. the High Court found that in this case, third parties who were not contractual parties to the deed in question, but who wished to rely on certain releases and clauses in the deed containing the arbitration agreement could be treated as a party to the arbitration under the Commercial Arbitration Act 2010 (NSW) (Commercial Arbitration Act).

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Inside Arbitration: Issue #4 of the publication from Herbert Smith Freehills’ Global Arbitration Practice

We are delighted to share with you the latest issue of the publication from Herbert Smith Freehills’ Global Arbitration Practice, Inside Arbitration.

In addition to sharing knowledge and insights about the markets and industries in which our clients operate, the publication offers personal perspectives of our international arbitration partners from across the globe.

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All Australian States and Territories are now Model Law jurisdictions

By introducing the new Commercial Arbitration Act 2017 (ACT), the Australian Capital Territory is the last Australian State to adopt the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (the Model Law). At the Federal and State level, the Model Law now applies to both international and domestic arbitrations seated in Australia.

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Australian Court provides guidance on Art 33(3) of the Model Law, the doctrine of functus officio and when a ‘Final Award’ is not ‘final’

In Blanalko Pty Ltd v Lysaght Building Solutions Pty Ltd [2017] VSC 97, Croft J of the Victorian Supreme Court confirmed that a party is not required to rely on, or comply with the time constraint in, Art 33(3) of the Model Law to obtain a further Award in circumstances where the arbitrator has made ‘a conscious decision not to deal with an issue’.  The decision also provides useful commentary on the functus officio doctrine and the circumstances in which an Award labelled ‘Final Award’ is not, relevantly, a ‘final Award.’

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