15 May 2023

Wagga residents part of $132 million PFAS class action settlement against Defence; Wreck Bay awaits

| Daniel Burdon
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Murray cod hatchery sign

Owners of the once-iconic Murray Cod Hatcheries blame PFAS contamination for their demise. Photo: Chris Roe.

Residents of Wagga Wagga have secured a portion of a $132.7 million settlement as part of a national class action over several alleged instances of firefighting chemicals leaking from Defence bases into local water supplies, under a confidential agreement with the Commonwealth.

Shine Lawyers are representing some 30,000 claimants 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.

The settlement follows a visit last month to Wagga by Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite, and community concerns the alleged contamination forced the closure of Murray Cod Hatcheries after the discovery of malformations in fish.

However, an action brought against the Commonwealth over alleged contamination in the Illawarra by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council remains ongoing.

READ ALSO Defence hosting community walk-in sessions in Wagga on PFAS contamination

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

The same firm will continue to pursue compensation for residents of Wreck Bay in the matter of Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council & Anor v The Commonwealth, with a further mediation ordered by the court, and a hearing stood down until 29 May.

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