Shine Lawyers drops Wodonga Council class action idea

Tristan Gaven
Tristan Gaven

A proposed class action against Wodonga Council has been abandoned after six weeks of talks, as lawyers discovered there was no legal avenue to pursue the claim.

Shine Lawyers first floated the idea of a class action in April after it was revealed Wodonga Council had overcharged ratepayers by $18 million.

But on Monday senior solicitor Tristan Gaven said while 300 people expressed interest, the action could not go ahead. 

“In this past week we received advice that the legal avenues available in Victoria for this matter were unavailable in this case,” he said. 

“The action is not proceeding purely based on the lack of viable legal avenues available to the residents of Wodonga.”

Wangaratta’s John Suta, who was set to conduct the class action in conjunction with Shine lawyers, could not be contacted for comment. 

When asked why it took six weeks to determine there was no legal avenue for the claim, Mr Gaven said the “law is complex, and it quite often takes considerable time to exhaust every possible legal recourse”.

“Legal avenues were being explored prior to the town hall meeting, however further evidence and advice only became available after the meeting, which is why we’ve unfortunately had to make this decision,” he said.

Mr Gaven said they were still looking for a way to “hold council to account”.

“However based on current advice, we thought it prudent to notify the residents of Wodonga that despite the Ombudsman’s report, we are yet to find a viable legal avenue,” he said. 

Ahead of the town hall meeting in Albury last month, national special council with Shine Lawyers Jan Saddler said Wodonga Council had ‘a case to answer’.

“These are not complicated issues, in the sense that it’s a very simple straightforward interpretation of the legislation and we have the benefit of the Ombudsman’s report,” she said ahead of the town hall meeting.

Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie said it was “great” to hear. She said council was continuing to work with the community, through the budget process and to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations. 

Council chief executive Patience Harrington echoed that council was working with the community to address the levy. 

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NO GO: Jan Saddler and Tristan Gaven of Shine Lawyers at the town hall meeting for Wodonga ratepayers, with Chrlie Mitchell and Wangaratta lawyer John Suta.

NO GO: Jan Saddler and Tristan Gaven of Shine Lawyers at the town hall meeting for Wodonga ratepayers, with Chrlie Mitchell and Wangaratta lawyer John Suta.