Australia Lawyers for survivors of Victoria’s deadliest Black Saturday bushfires are seeking advice on whether to challenge the Australian Tax Office over a decision to tax their record $500million payout.
About 5000 survivors sued electricity provider SP AusNet, Utility Services Corporation Limited and the Department of Sustainability and Environment after 119 lives were lost in East Kilmore-Kinglake bushfires in February 2009, with a $494.7m settlement approved in December 2014.
Maurice Blackburn says in a statement that it is considering a challenge to the ATO over a decision to tax the payout, which the Victorian Supreme Court heard on Monday could start flowing to victims by the end of this year.
‘We have fought for bushfire survivors every step of this long, tough road, and we’re not about to let this latest hurdle pass unchallenged either,’ Maurice Blackburn Principal Andrew Watson said.
‘While it won’t affect the timing of payments starting to be distributed to our clients this year, and the net effect is a few cents in the dollar on recoveries, we believe the tax office’s decision is wrong.
‘If our expert legal advice reaffirms that, we will fight to recover that money for clients.
‘Our clients will receive their initial payments which are on track to go out as previously advised [this year for personal injury claims and early next year for property and economic loss claims].
‘But if we successfully challenge the tax office there may be a further distribution.’
On February 7, 2009, 119 people died in Victorias Black Saturday bushfires, the deadliest natural disaster in Australian history.
The majority of the people died in and around Kinglake and Kilmore East, many meeting their fate on that shocking road as they tried to escape when it was far too late.
Many died when their cars collided with trees, other fleeing vehicles, or rolled into the burning ravine as darkness descended.