As most group members would be aware, the Black Saturday bushfire class action settlement process has been subject to ongoing oversight by the Court at regular case management conferences (CMC), regarding progress on achieving a full and fair distribution to group members in the successful bushfire class action cases (both Kilmore and Murrindindi).
The most recent CMC was yesterday, Tuesday 21 June, in front of both Justice Dixon and Justice Forrest. It was an extensive CMC and documentation including the affidavits supplied in support of progress of the distribution will be available on the Court’s website.
Some key points that are likely to be of significant interest to group members to come out of yesterday’s CMC include:
- Measures that have been taken to expedite the distribution process are working
- The Court is comforted by the safeguards in place to ensure accuracy and quality control is appropriate to make proper payments to clients
- More than $2million in hardship interim payments have been made already
- Distribution is hoped to commence late this year or early next year
- Discussions are currently being held with the ATO to ensure the tax treatment of interest monies is finalised and does not hold up the settlement distribution.
Importantly, both Justices Dixon and Forrest made several comments commending the progress being made in light of the size and complexity of the tasks at hand.
“The end of this year is the optimistic assessment. Early next year is where the realistic expectation should sit. It doesn’t strike me as unreasonable in terms of the size of the task you are undertaking.”
– Justice Dixon.
“The idea of trying to process 10,000 cases with the resources this Court has is unimaginable. The only way in which it would be practically dealt with is by setting up a scheme like this.”
– Justice Forrest
On the safeguards built into the payments process:
“If I may say so Mr Watson, I thought on reading through the scheme it gives the Court considerable comfort that there are a number of levels of protections being put in place to ensure that the distribution is achieved in an accurate and fair way and the different levels, basically the three levels of protection that you are suggesting there with the internal audit, the external audit and the use of the chequing system seems at least to me to be an appropriate and suitable way to deal with those issues.” – Justice Dixon
Lead plaintiff in the Kilmore case Carol Matthews also attended and presented orally to the Court as well as supplying an affidavit supporting the work and progress being made to ensure that group members were being carefully and fairly assessed in order to get the right payments made promptly.
Other group members also attended and were provided with answers to their own sets of questions regarding the process, which were all answered thoroughly by the information in the available affidavits and by the Court’s explanation on the day, given that those group members declined to ask further questions of the scheme administrator when provided the opportunity by the Court.
Full transcripts of the day’s hearing are available upon request from the Court.