Australia Cheques totalling more than $496 million have been mailed out to Black Saturday survivors as part of a class action settlement, eight years after the devastating bushfires.
Cameron Scott, a spokesman for the law firm Maurice Blackburn, said about 4000 claimants affected by the Kilmore-Kinglake and Murrindindi-Marysville fires will receive payments this week for economic loss and property damage.
This is on top of the personal injury money distributed to survivors last year which saw around 1800 claimants receive payments totalling more than $192.4 million.
This brings the total money paid to Black Saturday survivors in Australia to $688.5 million.
Veteran TV reporter Norm Beaman, whose property at Mount Disappointment was caught in the fire, said he was grateful for the cheque which they received on Tuesday, but it was only a partial compensation for what they had to go through.
The Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people, including 119 in the Kilmore East-Kinglake fire, and 40 in the Murrindindi fire complex.
The Murrindindi fire all but wiped out the town of Marysville.
In 2014 and 2015, the Victorian Supreme Court approved nearly $800 million in payments to residents in the Kilmore East-Kinglake and Murrindindi class actions.
Of this, nearly $100 million will be swallowed up in court and other legal costs. Another $20 million is locked up in a tax dispute with the Australian Taxation Office.
Last year, the Supreme Court approved the payment of litigation expenses and costs associated with the administration of the settlement, paving the way for survivors to receive the payments.
Law firm Maurice Blackburn reached Australia’s largest class action settlement in 2014 for the Kinglake fire, with SP AusNet liable for $380 million and government agencies to pay $104 million.
In 2015, the Murrindindi fire was settled for $300 million.
Maurice Blackburn principal Andrew Watson said it had been an honour to achieve the two highest class action settlements in Australian history on behalf of survivors of the Black Saturday fires.
“The cheques for property damage reaching survivors this week form part of nearly $700 million in settlement funds distributed as a result of the Kilmore East-Kinglake and Murrindindi class actions,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Beaman was a chief of staff at Channel Seven in Melbourne when he received a call from his wife about the fire on their property.
He raced to the property, but was stopped at a police roadblock. There, he called the office and did a live cross that earned him a Melbourne Press Club Quill award, a Logie and a Walkley award.
Mr Beaman, who has never listened to the tapes of this live cross, said it was “a hell of a long time” to wait for the settlement.
“It is partial compensation for the mindless act of not ensuring that the system was safe on the day,” Mr Beaman said.
He said he was grateful to receive compensation and that it would allow he and his wife “to draw a line under that day”.
Mr Beaman said they were lucky that the fire hadn’t been started by natural means and that someone had been held responsible for it.
“It was a mammoth task, because [there were] 10,000 litigants, I think,” he said.
“Some people who lost treasured, irreplaceable items could never be fully compensated for what they lost.
“We lost our neighbour and how do you ever compensate for that.”