Deniliquin Pastoral Times

‘Liable for negligence’

- By JOHN THOMPSON

The Murray Darling Basin Authority will see it’s day in court after the organisati­on failed to convince the court of appeals that they were immune from lawsuits alleging negligence.

Both the Supreme Court, and now the Court of Appeals, have determined that the MDBA is in fact liable for negligence.

It is a turning point for the locally-led class action lawsuit against the authority, which began late last year.

‘‘It’s a magnificen­t breakthrou­gh’’ said Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks, who was instrument­al in establishi­ng the class action.

‘‘The MDBA has tried, and failed, to argue that they’re not answerable to plebs like us.

‘‘But what the Court of Appeals has found is that the MDBA, which is supposed to represent ordinary Australian­s, is in fact answerable to them.’’

The Court of Appeals ruled in favour of lead plaintiffs Jack and Maree Doyle, potato farmers operating in Berrigan, and Rodney and Valerie Dunn, who are rice and cereal farmers based in Mellool.

Both parties are represente­d by the Banton Group.

The court deemed that the MDBA was not in fact a ‘public authority’, which means it is not immune to civil liability claims.

‘‘We are very pleased with the result,’’ said Banton Group’s managing partner Amanda Banton.

‘‘It significan­tly reduces the issues in dispute and those savings should be reflected in considerab­le cost savings in finalising this matter for group members whom we hope to make significan­t recoveries for”.

Claimants have alleged that the MDBA’s consistent mismanagem­ent of water systems in southern NSW led to an estimated $1.5 billion dollars in damages to local irrigators during 2016 and 2017.

The Authority’s decisions led to the draining of the Menindee Lakes — which they argue was caused by drought — and the subsequent flooding of the Barmah-Millewa Forest, resulting in slashed general security allocation­s according to claimants.

During 2016, which was a drought year, farmers in the Southern Basin were awarded just fifty per cent of the general security allocation­s they had been owed.

The reduced allocation, plaintiffs claim, had a significan­t financial impact on their businesses.

The class action lawsuit is currently being backed by an anonymous external funder, who stands to benefit should damages be paid.

However Mr Brooks claims the class action ‘‘isn’t about money’’, but rather accountabi­lity.

‘‘We just want them to learn from their mistakes and listen to us locals,’’ he said.

‘‘If they did they might even learn a thing or two.’’

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