It was both a privilege and a pleasure last month to be formally appointed to chair the Dispute Avoidance Board for the Sydney Light Rail project, which will run from Circular Quay in Sydney to connect with Randwick and Kingsford. It is a substantial PPP project worth a little more than $2 billion, and I have been hard at work recently getting my head around the contract documents.
The track record for these review boards in Australia is brilliant – now 60 projects without a single one of them having gone to litigation or arbitration. That is a very different dispute history from those projects without boards, where litigation or arbitration is not far short of a norm.
The original model from the United States – Dispute Review Boards – was essentially about non-binding mini-trials. As time has gone by, the emphasis has shifted further upstream, with the bulk of boards’ work now being done preventing issues from ever becoming disputes. Hence the new tendency for the boards to be called Dispute Avoidance Boards, rather than Dispute Review Boards.