15 May 2023

Wreck Bay waits to hear outcome of $132 million PFAS class action against Defence

| Daniel Burdon
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Green Patch Beach at Jervis Bay. Photo: Jervis Bay Tourism.

The Federal Government will pay out more than $132 million to 30,000 landholders across Australia affected by toxic chemicals found in firefighting foam. However, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal community at Jervis Bay must wait another fortnight to learn the fate of its part in the national joint class action.

Shine Lawyers are representing claimants from seven communities in the class action, from Wagga and Richmond in NSW, Bullsbrook in Western Australia, Wodonga/Bandiana in Victoria, Edinburgh in South Australia, Darwin in the Northern Territory and Townsville in Queensland.

A trial in the Federal Court was set to begin this morning (15 May) to examine the Federal Government’s alleged responsibility for the spread of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from several military bases around the country into local soil and groundwater supplies.

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The plaintiffs’ case was expected to argue that the spread of the contamination had affected property values in each region, but the settlement, made without admission of liability, has avoided the need for a full trial.

The Wreck Bay case has been adjourned for further mediation. A hearing will start on 29 May if the mediation is unsuccessful. The action alleges that the contamination was a result of the Department of Defence using firefighting foam containing PFAS at HMAS Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range Facility.

It was led by Shine Lawyers’ head of class actions Craig Allsopp, who said while the settlement was positive, the outcome was still subject to approval by the court.

“Group members in our class action have the protection of the court at all times. The next step in our negotiations is to present our in-principle agreement to the Federal Court,” he said. “If the proposed settlement is found to be fair and reasonable, the court will approve it.”

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Mr Allsopp said the firm would be able to release more details about the settlement once the court issued notices to action group members ahead of the settlement approval hearing.

“It is always a good outcome when group members reach an agreement ahead of a trial to avoid incurring the extra costs and risks of complex litigation through the court,” he said.

“The settlement money, if approved, will go some way to compensate the seven communities in this class action for their losses, however, many are still stuck on contaminated land.”

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