Indigenous kids to share in $22m toxic chemical payout


There will be no age limit on who will receive funds from a multimillion-dollar payout to an Indigenous group impacted by toxic chemicals on cultural lands, a judge has ruled.

The Commonwealth in May agreed to pay $22 million to people living in Wreck Bay, on the NSW south coast, after firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals leaked into sacred waterways.

The settlement of the civil action, brought by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council, was approved by the Federal Court, including an estimated $16.5 million going to Indigenous people whose cultural use of the polluted lands was affected.

On Friday, Justice Michael Lee ruled that children from the community would be able to share in the payout after objections were made by some of the 980-member group.

Justice Lee said minors should be compensated taking into account the "intergenerational impact" on practising culture.

He said the settlement did not include any restrictions and he did not believe there should be an age limit on who received the funds.

Earlier, counsel for the class action, William Edwards SC, said there were several categories of objections from group members about the settlement distribution, including wanting to bar minors.

The court heard around 104 young people were at risk of missing out on money from the settlement, but that there was a buffer in it that meant minors could be included if the court ruled them eligible.

"It's been a controversial subject within the community," Mr Edwards said.

The court was told there were a "plurality" of views on how to share the funds among the class action group, which represented people living near the HMAS Creswell and Jervis Bay Range Facility and those using the land for traditional or cultural purposes.

It was brought solely seeking damages over decreased use of the land and does not also include compensation for personal injuries from the PFAS group of chemicals.

The so-called "forever chemicals", which accumulate in the body and do not naturally degrade, are linked to cancers, birth defects and other diseases.