Noel Hutley SC
Noel Hutley SC

A trial date has been set for a class action by thousands of victims of southeast Queensland’s devastating 2011 flood.

The hearing in the Supreme Court of NSW is due to begin on October 3 next year and is expected to run into early 2018.

More than 6000 individuals and businesses have joined the class action by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers against the Queensland Government, Seqwater and SunWater, seeking compensation for financial loss and damage allegedly caused by the negligent operation of Wivenhoe and Somerset dams.

Large parts of Brisbane, Ipswich and the Lockyer Valley were inundated in the January 2011 disaster. The landmark case – Australia’s second-largest class action after the Victorian bushfires – will now be led by senior counsel Noel Hutley, SC, as Steven Finch, SC, is unavailable for the trial.

Do the people of Queensland know the law firms track record in class action dealing with victims?

Let us take a brief look at Maurice Blackburn Pty Ltd

The parties to the Kilmore East Kinglake Black Saturday bushfire class action agreed to settle on 15 July 2014, after more than 200 court sitting days before Justice
J Forrest.

In December 2014, a settlement of $494 million was reached for the Kilmore East-Kinglake fire, while the Murrindindi-Marysville fire was settled for $300 million in May 2015.

Black Saturday victims say they feel left in the dark by law firm Maurice Blackburn after it confirmed payouts from the record $494 million class-action settlement would be delayed until next year 2017 just days before the event’s seventh anniversary on February 7, with survivors still facing dire financial circumstances.This is 3 and 4 years after settlement with victims still awaiting payment.

Andrew Watson, who is in charge of Maurice Blackburn’s class-actions department, was appointed administrator of the Settlement Distribution Scheme. Other class-action schemes run by other firms make interim payments to clients, but Maurice Blackburn did not respond to questions about its policy or any intention of interim payments.

In a statement, Maurice Blackburn said they knew better than anyone the importance of getting payments to survivors and were working as quickly as possible – now four years down the track where they still receiving regular payments from the dwindling compensation fund.

Since 2014 the company have in trust $794 MILLION awarded payment to victims they are withholding on a premise of “we are working on it”. Amazingly windfall dividend payouts to equity partners of Maurice Blackburn Pty Ltd has occured, disclosed in financialal documents filed with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission as follows;

$200,000 on July 1, 2014
$3,938,368 on July 9
$1.364m on October 31
$22,000 on November 7
$687,500 on December 23
$7,828,250 on February 18 2013
$2,029,500 on April 28 2013.

A total of $16,069,618 paid to the partners, information they kept from their 460 staff reporting a loss after tax of about $7.5m, which it said was “driven by increased share-based payment expenses and exit retirement benefits”. The $16.069m in dividends in the last financial year 2014 compares with $2.589m paid to the firm’s senior equity partners in the previous year, according to the firm’s accounts with ASIC.

However dividend sums pocketed by the partners who held the more lucrative ordinary shares in the firm in the last financial year — Chairman Steve Walsh, Josh Bornstein, Kathryn Booth, John Voyage (since resigned), Rod Hodgson, John Salanitri, Bennett Slade, Liberty Sanger, Andrew Watson and Peter Koutsoukis — are not disclosed in the financial accounts that must be a worry to everyone outside Maurice Blackman Pty Ltd.

It will be interesting to view the 2015-16 Maurice Blackburn Pty Ltd company return to update the partners dividends.

Of further interest the daily cost and charges incurred to keep this gravy train alive since receiving that massive compensation payment would be of further interest. We have discovered law firms could charge fees of about $600 an hour for essentially an administrative role, not a challenging legal role.


Next Maurice Blackburn Pty Ltd gravy train to leave the station is carrying 6,000 Queenslanders.

On factual information to hand, and subject to a win in the very suspect Queensland kangaroo courts who dismiss the Westminster system of justice, will have the privilege of a long, long, very long waiting term for any sign of payment while also, like Victorians,  observe the settlement slowly dissolve funds from the trust account in the name of legal fees and directors feeding.

Company Chairman Steve Walsh delivering the sales pitch.

But it gets better !!!

Maurice Blackburn lawyers are running a class action against law firm Slatter & Gordon who flagged the media over Julia Gillard, once a lawyer with the firm suffering allegation of fraud and corruption over union transactions that were laid before a Royal Commission that experienced many colourful witnesses.

One can say this will be extremely interesting as the games begin.

Harry Palmer