Top tier taps into growing trend with "$5 billion" deal

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The Government of Victoria has announced that Minter Ellison has been successful in its bid to be the legal adviser on the proposed lease of the Port of Melbourne, the largest container port in Australia.

It is also the last publicly owned port in the East, and the sale of the lease, expected to be for 40-years, is rumoured to be worth more than $5 billion.

The government has also appointed investment banks Morgan Stanley and Flagstaff Partners as joint financial advisers.

Minter’s core advisory team includes infrastructure partner Peter Block, corporate partner John Steven, real estate partners Lloyd Baggott and Anthony Poynton, and competition and regulatory partner Geoff Carter.

The Port of Melbourne is no first for the Australian Top Tier – it has been involved in every major port privatisation in the country, including as the principal legal advisor on the $1.75 billion lease of the Port of Newcastle this year, the $5 billion lease of Port Botany and Port Kembla last year and the $2 billion lease of the Port of Brisbane in 2010.

The firm has also been the Port of Melbourne Corporation’s primary legal advisor for the past 15 years.

Minter Ellison’s head of infrastructure, partner Andrew Rentoul, said the transaction is hugely significant and is part of a growing trend.
"Transactions that help government to recycle capital into new projects are an important part of Australia's response to the infrastructure deficit. We will see more of these types of transactions around Australia over the next 3 years,” he says.
"Across the country governments have a store of high quality infrastructure assets that will be very attractive to investors, including roads, rail, ports and electricity assets. Bringing economic infrastructure assets to market pays for new hospitals, schools and roads and provides opportunities for jobs and economic development.”
Cristean Yazbeck, the president of the Commercial Law Association of Australia (CLA) and principal at Rockwell Olivier (Sydney), previously told Australasian Lawyer that transactions such as the Port of Melbourne and the more unusual pitching process being undertaken provides a “wonderful” bridge between commerce, law and government and is one that the CLA is keen to encourage.

“It fosters innovation, efficiency, infrastructure development, and ultimately economic benefits,” he says, adding that the timing of the sale is also consistent with a pick-up in the Australian M&A space.

Yazbeck feels that the transaction space is increasingly opening up and offering prime opportunities for a diverse range of firms in terms of winning bids for big transaction deals.

“We think the boutiques and mid-tiers are becoming well equipped to do the work traditionally reserved for the top-tiers,” he says. “The change in the Australian legal landscape with the arrival of the international mega-firms has added skills, and also spread talent from the traditional top-tiers to the internationals, boutiques and the so called mid-tiers, many of whom are branding themselves as ‘independent’.”