Tony Zong discontinues legal action against Awabakal land council, but cross-claim unresolved in Supreme Court

TANGLED WEB: Lawyers acting for the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council leaving the Supreme Court last year. Jeremy Kirk SC, centre, has requested "scandalous" material be struck from the record. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
TANGLED WEB: Lawyers acting for the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council leaving the Supreme Court last year. Jeremy Kirk SC, centre, has requested "scandalous" material be struck from the record. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Companies belonging to Sydney-based businessman Tony Zong have agreed to discontinue legal action against the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, over a failed deal to buy $12.6 million worth of Aboriginal land across the city. 

However the complicated legal saga over the land at Warners Bay and Braye Park – that has entangled several parties and involves disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias – has distance left to run.

A cross-claim launched by the land council against the other parties involved – including a Sydney law firm and a mysterious company known as Gows Heat – remains unresolved. 

In the Supreme Court on Friday, Justice Rowan Darke sent the cross-claim to mediation.

He was also forced to strike “scandalous” material from the court’s file, contained in two affidavits of the solicitor acting for Gows Heat. 

The land council’s barrister, Jeremy Kirk SC, complained about “truly scandalous” material in at least one of the affidavits, and allegations targeting himself and his instructing solicitor.

Mr Kirk acknowledged he was a “big boy” but said the material had the potential to be “very hurtful” to people other than the litigants.

“Yes, we’re all big boys, but it’s not the sort of material that should find its way into solicitor’s correspondence or affidavits,” Justice Darke replied. 

One of the targets of the cross-claim is Despina Bakis, a solicitor with Knightsbridge North Lawyers, who has been accused of negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. 

The barrister acting on her behalf, Jeffrey Rose, argued there should not be mediation until the land council produced expert evidence demonstrating how his client had behaved negligently. 

“We are completely at a loss to understand ... how the negligence claim passes muster,” Mr Rose said, adding that the financial losses sustained by the land council had not be quantified. 

Any amount of mediation would not resolve the impasse, he argued. But Mr Kirk was more optimistic. 

“We think it is a real possibility that the things that divide us might be overcome with the assistance of a mediator,” he said. 

Justice Darke agreed to mediation, but warned that if the land council did not rely on expert evidence, it would need to explain its case with “clarity and force”. 

A separate lawsuit against the land council, which has seen a caveat placed over the post office, was also sent to mediation on Friday.  

The plaintiffs – Knightsbridge North Lawyers and Advantage Property Experts Syndications – claim they are together owed a sum of more than $326,700 for their involvement in Awabakal land redevelopment. 

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