QuestionsOnNotice

Adjournment Matters No 1024
Unanswered
Council
59 Parliament First Session
Question
Asked: 25 November 2020

CLASS ACTIONS

MRS MCARTHUR — To ask the Minister for Training and Skills (for the Attorney-General): 

My adjournment debate matter is for the Attorney-General. In June the Labor government passed the Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2019, which overturned 200 years of Australian legal precedent to permit law firms to charge contingency fees in class action lawsuits. In just four months there has been a 157 per cent increase in the number of class action lawsuits commenced in the Victorian Supreme Court. While Australian businesses are trying to survive a recession, exacerbated by unparalleled public policy failures in this state, the government has opened the floodgates to lawsuits that further debilitate them. Those who voted for this legislation must now ask themselves: is the explosion in class actions a consequence of increased access to justice coupled with more wrongdoing by major Australian corporations over the past four months, all while they have been locked up, or is it the result of big law firms capitalising on enormously profitable fee arrangements driven by this government’s changes that allow them to charge massive commissions? Would it surprise anyone in this place that these beneficiaries are also major donors to the Labor Party?

As I stated in the debate on the legislation, class actions have a noble aim, which I support wholeheartedly. Unfortunately they are no longer a vehicle of justice but instead they are a vehicle for profits, hijacked by predatory practices of law firms and offshore litigation funders. In the Black Saturday bushfire class action Maurice Blackburn charged administrative costs of $1 million every month to victims and withheld the settlement money for over two years. It is a disgrace that this government are more concerned about the profits of their lawyer friends rather than the members of the class, as evidenced by their vote against enshrining victims receiving at least 65 per cent of the damages awarded to them. That is why I call on the minister to urgently produce an annual report on the percentages of damages that went to victims compared to their lawyers in the class actions filed in Victoria. This is the least we should expect: a systematic evaluation of the policy her government has introduced. We need hard facts to show the number of cases launched, the success rate of these cases and the percentage of settlements awarded as fees. I for one will be very interested to see those numbers.

Answer
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