Third parties in firing line as Williamtown class action against Department of Defence begins in Federal Court

Defence lawyers and members of a Williamtown class action have come face to face in court, where it was revealed Defence is considering suing third parties over the contamination that has leached from the RAAF base at Williamtown. 

The development means private companies and even other government agencies could become embroiled in the multi-million dollar legal battle, over the toxic firefighting foam that was used at the base for nearly 40 years and has rendered properties around it worthless. 

As the matter was heard for the first time in the Federal Court on Tuesday morning, lawyers for the Commonwealth asked for more time to file their defence so they could examine the possibility of counter-claims against third parties. 

But Justice Jagot rejected a request for an end of March deadline, instead ordering that the defence be filed by February 28 and the matter return to court in April. 

Oliver Gayner, a representative of IMF Bentham which is funding the class action, said they were unaware of who might be the target of a counter claim. 

"Our case is that Defence is responsible for this damage", he said.

"I am not sure who else Defence may seek to blame - possibly 3M [the manufacturer of the foam] - but if you ask our class members, it is Defence who should take responsibility for its actions."

Justice Jagot also ordered that Defence be prepared for an-out-of-court mediation when the case returns to court in April and Mr Gayner said that was welcome news from the residents’ perspective.

“Our class members have been forced to put their lives on hold so naturally we want the case to be resolved as quickly as possible,” he said.

“In our letter of demand we proposed an out-of-court process. We’ve only gone to court because we’ve been forced to, and whilst we're prepared to continue with the court process for as long as necessary, anything that brings forward what the community wants – which is the full resolution of their claims – is a good thing.”

Mr Gayner said it was too early to put a dollar figured on the damages being pursued by residents. 

The Department of Defence was contacted for comment. 

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