A $132.7 million settlement has been reached between a class action group affected by toxic chemicals from military sites and the Commonwealth Government without any admission of liability from the Department of Defence.
Announced today, applicants in the multi-site PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl) class action, represented by Shine Lawyers, will be compensated by the Commonwealth via the settlement which came right before the case was set to be heard in the Federal Court this morning.
PFAS substances are a complex group of around 4,000 synthetic chemicals that do not break down naturally and instead accumulate over time in humans and in the environment.
If not for the settlement, residents in seven communities across Bullsbrook (WA), Richmond (NSW), Wagga Wagga (NSW), Wodonga/Bandiana (VIC), Edinburgh (SA), Darwin (NT) and Townsville (QLD) would have gone to trial to examine the Commonwealth’s alleged responsibility for the spread of PFAS chemicals from military bases across the country into neighbouring communities’ soil and groundwater.
Shine fought on behalf of the residents living near these military bases after their properties lost value due to contamination caused by these toxic chemicals.
Shine Lawyers joint head of class actions, Craig Allsopp, said while the news was positive, the outcome was still subject to approval by the Federal 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. If the proposed settlement is found to be fair and reasonable, the court will approve it. More details about the settlement will be available when the Court issues notices to group members in advance of the settlement approval hearing,” Allsopp said.
“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.
“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.”
Speaking to the press this morning in Adelaide, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said PFAS contamination had been an issue for many communities in Australia, particularly for those nearby airports.
“People have, across a range of communities, suffered from the use of this - it’s another example where we have to get occupational health and safety right,” the Prime Minister said.
“We need to get it right in the first place, that would avoid these sorts of actions.
“The biggest concern that I have with PFAS isn’t, of course, a financial one, it is the health outcomes of people who are affected by it.”
Shine added that it would continue to pursue compensation for residents of Wreck Bay in the matter of Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council & Anor v The Commonwealth. A further mediation proceeding for that matter was stood down until 29 May.
The latest settlement comes after Shine successfully secured a $215.5 million settlement for thousands of victims of PFAS chemical contamination via a deal struck in 2020.
That settlement gave closure to residents in Katherine in the Nothern Territory, those in Williamtown in New South Wales and occupants of Oakey, Queensland whose property values declined in value as a result of PFAS contamination.
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