Marjorie Thorpe v. Martang Pty Ltd et al.

Madgwicks have successfully defended Martang Pty Ltd in a fiercely contested high profile public interest Supreme Court claim by Djab Wurrung Elder, Marjorie Thorpe against the State Government relating to the proposed Victorian Western Highway road project and protection of alleged “culturally significant” trees.

On 23 November, Her Honour Justice Forbes dismissed all claims made by plaintiff, Marjorie Thorpe, against four State of Victoria government defendants and Martang, fifth defendant.

Martang was the former registered aboriginal party appointed under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Vic). n 2013, Martang had approved a cultural heritage management plan sponsored by Vic Roads which would have allowed the State Government to proceed with a road duplication of a section of the Western Highway.

In 2020, Ms Thorpe initiated Supreme Court proceedings contending that construction of the Project in reliance on the 2013 CHMP would involve harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage in contravention of the Aboriginal Heritage Act and would also breach her rights under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.  Ms Thorpe’s allegations as against Martang included that Martang’s approval of the 2013 CHMP was invalid because Martang had breached its statutory and common law duties by actions that placed it in a conflict of interest or by conduct that gave rise to actual or apprehended bias.

Martang, a family company with Aboriginal heritage, defended its position that it had undertaken considerable investigations with the assistance of numerous experts, including archaeologists and Aboriginal elders, into the specified area. Those inquiries had determined that Aboriginal cultural heritage was not threatened or compromised by the Project. Further, Martang asserted that Ms Thorpe had failed to adequately plead facts to substantiate the serious allegations of conflict of interest and bias by Martang.

The State is now progressing with a new CHMP with the current RAP of the relevant area, the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation.

The Madgwicks’ team was led by partner, Rick Goldberg (Picture), assisted by senior associate, Lisa McNicholas and barristers, Patrick Noonan and Priya Wakhlu.

Involved fees earner: Rick Goldberg – Madgwicks Lawyers; Lisa McNicholas – Madgwicks Lawyers;

Law Firms: Madgwicks Lawyers;

Clients: Martang Pty Ltd ;

Author: Sonia Carcano