Commonwealth settles $132.7m class action over foam contamination

Land owners whose properties were contaminated by firefighting foam used on RAAF bases have reached a $132.7 million settlement, while others face further talks.

Land owners whose properties were contaminated by firefighting foam used on RAAF bases have reached a $132.7 million settlement, while others face further talks. Photo: Getty

Thousands of land owners across Australia whose properties were contaminated by firefighting foam used on air force bases have secured a multimillion-dollar payout.

The Commonwealth will pay out $132.7 million to about 30,000 claimants in a settlement announced in the Federal Court on Monday

While the settlement still requires final approval from a judge, Justice Michael Lee said on Monday he was glad the “difficult task” of getting the parties to agree was over.

“I congratulate those involved. I know it’s not been a straightforward exercise,” he said.

Those involved reached an in-principle, binding agreement at the weekend for the compensation, which covers land owners near seven sites, the court heard.

Members of the class action will be issued further details about the settlement as it approaches approval.

The suit alleged that the Commonwealth failed to adequately prevent toxic chemicals in the foam from escaping and contaminating soil and groundwater.

The Commonwealth has not admitted liability in the terms of the settlement.

News of the agreement was emailed to the court at about 12.10am on Monday.

The so-called “forever chemicals”, which accumulate in the body and do not naturally degrade, are linked to cancers, birth defects and diseases.

Monday’s agreement covers sites near Royal Australian Air Force bases at Richmond and Wagga Wagga in NSW, Bullsbrook in Western Australia, Darwin in the Northern Territory, Edinburgh in South Australia, Townsville in Queensland and Wodonga in Victoria.

The Department of Defence previously agreed to pay land holders in Katherine (Northern Territory), Oakey (Queensland) and Williamtown (NSW) in a 2020 settlement worth $212.5 million.

$130m settlement in class action against Commonwealth

Shine Lawyers joint head of class actions Craig Allsopp said in a statement the agreement would save the cost of a risky trial.

“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,” he said.

Mr Allsopp said payments would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“With the group members I have spoken with the payment of compensation is recognition of their suffering,” he said.

“We’ve obtained compensation for property value here, but obviously it’s about their whole lives and their homes, so it’s going to make a big difference to a lot of people.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said people in a range of communities, particularly those surrounding airports, had suffered from the chemicals’ use.

“This is another example of where we have to get occupational health and safety right, and getting it right in the first place would avoid these sorts of actions,” he said.

“PFAS has been an issue for those around airports … people have across a range of communities suffered from the use of this.”

But he said the biggest concern wasn’t financial, “it’s the health of people affected by it”.

Another case involving Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council has been adjourned for further mediation.

Justice Michael Lee said the parties had had plenty of time to settle that case, and a trial would go ahead on May 29 if they could not.

“If the case doesn’t settle, it’s got to start,” he said on Monday.

-with AAP

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