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The headline trend in the Australian market has been the increasing assertiveness of regulatory bodies, primarily the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Cartel prosecutions and ASIC investigations into responsible lending practices and alleged bank bill swap rate (BBSW) manipulation have kept antitrust and financial services regulatory litigators busy, though front-end compliance work has also burgeoned. Additionally on the litigation front, shareholder and securities class actions and product liability class actions are the Damocles’ swords of the legal scene – always threatening, but rarely making contact.

In the banking and finance space, more and more complex and structured products are coming to market; there is now a developing debt capital market in Australia to complement the country’s longstanding profusion of equity capital markets work (notwithstanding 2016-’17, a relatively quiet period for major IPOs). Banks are more reluctant to box struggling companies into insolvency, especially since they can sell their debt to hungry financial institutions – though there have nonetheless been some major insolvencies, including Arrium, Dick Smith and, around mid-June 2017, Ten Network.

Infrastructure and transport projects have flourished, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, and the pipeline will remain strong into early 2018 at the very least. However, the other states have remained relatively quiet, with the exception of large renewables projects, increasing investment in which is driven by cost reductions and the pressure of federal and state renewable energy targets. Alternative financing of infrastructure projects has become topical, as the economic climate remains challenging; there is now a broad spectrum of possible funders active in the market, that are willing to use innovative funding structures. Financial restructuring of projects and companies in the sector continues to be a key area of growth. The downturn in front-end mining and resource work has been somewhat softened by increased activity in some niche commodities such as lithium, which is in high demand for use in battery storage.

The Australian real estate market remains buoyant and competitive in Sydney and Melbourne and continues to heat up in Brisbane, where both domestic and foreign investors see opportunity in residential and commercial developments.

The realm of IT and telecoms – which remains dominated by the transition to cloud-based solutions and data privacy mandates – overlaps somewhat with aviation law on the subject of unmanned aircraft and drone regulation. Firms with intellectual property offerings will have noticed that the market recently experienced a shift in ownership models, with firms such as Griffith Hack now operating under the ownership of Xenith IP along with Shelston IP and Watermark. Media and entertainment lawyers continue to find a steady stream of work in defamation claims and pre-publication advice.

The big news in the legal market is the merger between Norton Rose Fulbright and Henry Davis York, slated to take place in late 2017. Also making the headlines was the departure of seven project finance and projects lawyers from Herbert Smith Freehills to join White & Case LLP in September 2016.

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