IT HAS been disturbing to see the war of words develop over recent weeks over compensation owed to so many in the south-west in the wake of the devastation wrought by the St Patrick’s Day fires earlier this year.
The Standard has been approached by many farmers who lost so much and who have been struggling financially, physically and mentally since.
Their bewilderment and subsequent exhaustion from an admittedly labyrinth legal process around class actions, weighed against direct approaches to or from Powercor for compensation, has left many unable to engage with any part of the compensation process. For some it felt like Ash Wednesday all over again, a very different time before class actions and the scrutiny that subsequent disasters like Black Saturday have shone upon the compensation system
It is no coincidence the nation’s most experienced bushfire class action lawyers Maddens are based in the south-west. Time and again we have been ravaged by bushfires. Maddens now takes on bushfire class action work from around the nation over a period that has seen the growth of class action legal behemoths such as Morris Blackburn and Slater and Gordon.
Exhausted and troubled farmers cannot take on large corporations such as Powercor without expert legal help. Powercor will do everything it can to minimise payouts in the interests of its shareholders. Legal help such as this cannot be expected to be pro bono.
However, over recent weeks some politicians who have had repeated visits and calls from constituents at their wits end, have taken aim at the class action process, labelling it a protracted “lawyers picnic” and calling on government to intervene.
Six months almost to the day since the St Patrick’s Day fires and uninsured farmers have only charity and government handouts to help them back on their feet.
Surely governments can improve the system to provide blameless farmers and others more support more quickly in times of emergencies such as these?
Surely it does not always have to take a Royal Commission to effect institutional change?