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Local News - Victoria

Mother launches court action over fallen sign on Tullamarine Freeway


CPB Contractors, which was responsible for the construction and installation of signage on the Tullamarine Freeway, is also accused of repeated negligence, including failing to adequately design, construct and install the signage, according to the writ.

Ms Lettieri suffered head and spinal injuries along with post-traumatic stress disorder from the crash, which she described at the time as “like a roller door slamming shut in front of me”.

Nella Lettieri's car was crushed by a falling road sign.

Nella Lettieri’s car was crushed by a falling road sign.Credit:Nine News

The Transport Accident Commission had recently issued Ms Lettieri with a serious injury certificate, according to her lawyer, John Karantzis from Carbone Lawyers.

“Our client continues to suffer from severe physical and psychological injuries as a result of this incident and we intend to hold those responsible for these injuries to account,” Mr Karantzis said.

The incident prompted an investigation by CPB Contractors, which is part of the multinational CIMIC Group, formerly known as Leighton Holdings.

The review found the sign collapsed because of a “progressive fatigue crack” due to the omission of a stiffener plate during the fabrication process.

CPB Contractors declined to comment on the legal proceedings when contacted by The Sunday Age on Thursday.

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said it had conducted a thorough audit of similar signs and was confident the Tullamarine Freeway accident was an isolated incident.

“As this matter is now the subject of legal proceedings, we are unable to comment further,” the spokeswoman said.

Major Projects Victoria program director David Clements said it had undertaken an extensive review and site inspection of all overhead and roadside assets built by CPB Contractors as part of the CityLink Tulla Widening Project.

“These inspections did not identify any ongoing public safety concerns and we remain committed to working with government and industry to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Mr Clements said.

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Action over Ambulance Victoria staff claims took far too long


It was November 2014, and then Victorian Police chief commissioner Ken Lay sent out a video message to every officer making his views clear: “There are some men in this organisation whose behaviour towards women is reprehensible. It is based on a sense of entitlement by some men, who think it’s OK to sexually harass, intimidate, and degrade women. The behaviour is simply unacceptable and has no relationship to our sworn duty to uphold the right.”

He backed up his words by calling in the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate. A year later, a damning report found an “entrenched culture of ‘everyday sexism’ coupled with a high tolerance for sexual harassment”.

Ken Lay when he was Victoria's  police commissioner.

Ken Lay when he was Victoria’s police commissioner. Credit:Penny Stephens PKS

The review led to reforms that continue to this day. A recent report revealed that a scheme set up to support police officers who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or discriminated against at work had been inundated with victims seeking compensation and counselling.

For personal reasons, Mr Lay resigned as police chief commissioner soon after he triggered the review, but the following year he was made chair of Ambulance Victoria. On his appointment, he said it was an organisation that needed to move with the times: “We need to continue to modernise, we need to continue to get better and reshape the organisation.”



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Australian News

NRL grand final live: NRLW decider between Broncos and Roosters kicks off Sunday rugby league action


The Penrith Panthers have been the best team in the NRL for most of the year, but the grand final sees them face their biggest test in the form of an in-form Melbourne Storm side.

Before tonight’s game, the Brisbane Broncos will try to three-peat in the NRLW grand final against the Roosters.

Follow all the action in our live blog.

Live updates

By Jon Healy

Enjoying grand final week

(AAP)

Grand final week is usually a strange, but by all accounts enjoyable, departure from the norm.

          

There are umpteen media events and trying to embrace the festivities while blocking out distractions is normally delicate balance, but this year has been a bit different.

           

              

With Penrith being in the final — and being there with such a young team, just like we were in 2003 — it brings back a lot of great memories.

         

I was in these kids’ shoes 17 years ago. I was only a young kid, I didn’t really understand the game.

             

I certainly didn’t know how hard it would be to get back into the grand final, but in time I realised just how much has to go right for you to get that chance.

By Jon Healy

Any questions?

By Jon Healy

It’s NRL grand final day!

(AAP)

At the end of a unique and wild NRL season it comes down to an unsurprising clash: 1 vs 2. Penrith vs Melbourne.

          

Coming into the finals, these were the consensus best teams (although I think everyone was a little bit wary counting out the Roosters) and that held firm throughout.

          

Now they meet in the grand final in a showdown between the form side of this year and probably the form side of the decade.

          

But before that, the two-time defending Brisbane Broncos take on the Sydney Roosters in the NRLW grand final. And we’ll bring you all that action as it comes in just over an hour’s time.



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More than 1600 register for ‘stolen wages’ class action against WA government


More than 1600 indigenous people, many of whom were taken from their families as children, have so far registered their interest in a class action against the West Australian government over allegedly stolen wages.

The legal action, lodged with the Federal Court this week through Shine Lawyers, is being funded through Litigation Lending Services Limited, which last year settled a similar case with the Queensland government for $190 million.

LLS non-executive director Nyunggai Warren Mundine said during the Aboriginal protection era, many indigenous Australians worked hard but were never paid their wages.

“The moneys owed to them was paid to the Protector of Aborigines in each state,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The recovery of wages earned by indigenous Australians, but never paid to them, is a major area of unfinished business.

“A scheme set up by the WA government returned to them only a few thousand dollars each for a lifetime’s work. It was an insult.”

To be eligible to join the class action, an indigenous person or their relative must have worked in WA before 1972 and not been paid all of their wages.

It is not yet known how many people who have registered so far will actually be eligible.

Among the group is Ron Harrington-Smith, who was aged four when he was taken from his mother in 1949 to work at the Mount Margaret mission.

His duties included chopping and carting wood to missionaries, marshalling livestock and emptying toilet pans down a mineshaft.

“All of this was barefoot and in squalid conditions,” Mr Harrington-Smith said in a statement this week.

“They might have given us some tucker, like spuds and onions, but we never got paid.”

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt, who is indigenous, said this week the state aimed to settle the case through mediation and was currently considering the grounds of the compensation claims.



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Government lawyers plead for ‘pause’ to hotel quarantine class action


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5 Districts NY owner Anthony Ferrara claimed the drop in his business was directly due to stage three and four restrictions, which he alleges were introduced as a result of mistakes made by Ms Mikakos, Mr Pakula and their department secretaries during hotel quarantine.

“Victorian businesses don’t need charity or kind thoughts from politicians,” Mr Ferrara said in a writ filed in August.

“We need certainty and we need it soon. Our situation is not our doing. We are calling to account those who put us in this dire position.”

In the Supreme Court on Monday, Adam Hochroth, the barrister for the plaintiffs, said they had contacted defendants on August 26 to begin discussions, but were yet to hear back.

He said it was unsatisfactory that the Andrews government had briefed lawyers to appear in the case just a few days before it was due to go to court.

The COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry, headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, is set to hand down its findings on November 6.

Government barrister Liam Brown said several factors, including findings from the Coate inquiry, the uncertain future of other class actions and ongoing challenges faced as part of the pandemic, meant a delay was appropriate.

“Put all that together, we say, the most just and timely and efficient way of this matter proceeding is for the pause button to be pressed now,” Mr Brown said.

“We think it would be more sensible to wait and see what happens as a result of the Coate inquiry.”

Justice John Dixon warned parties against taking a combative approach, saying he would force co-operation if the plaintiff and government could not get along.

“If the parties … each take a big position up on the hill looking across the valley to the others with buckets of stones to throw at each other, then I will take different measures to ensure that the proceeding is effectively brought to one where the parties are co-operating,” Justice Dixon said.

Justice Dixon also said elements of the case were comparable to the running of the bushfire class action and that some aspects of the various class actions could be run together if they turn on a similar, or the same, legal question.

The plaintiffs will file their statement of claim by November 20, and both parties will face court for a second case management conference on December 11.

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Netball’s Indigenous Diamonds call for immediate action on diversity; Netball Queensland commits to change


The only two Indigenous netballers to have played for Australia have got an agreement from Netball Queensland to commit to funding programs and creating strategies to end the sport’s lack of diversity.

It ends a week of negative coverage for the sport following the only Indigenous player in Super Netball, Jemma Mi Mi of the Queensland Firebirds, being left off the court during Indigenous Round — despite being used by organisers to promote it.

Netball has been played in Australia for almost 100 years, but Marcia Ella-Duncan and Sharon Finnan-White remain the only two Indigenous players selected for the national team back in the 1980s and 1990s.

Speaking on The Ticket, both said they were tired of the 30-year “talk-fest” that has resulted in little change and called for immediate action — which Netball Queensland Chair, Eugenie Buckley, agreed to.

Netball Australia has devised “a declaration of commitment” which Buckley says all the states will sign.

“I can tell you from the other CEOs across the states there is a 100 per cent support for it,” she said.

The netball elders, Ella-Duncan and Finnan-White, have drawn a line in the sand after what they say is decades of inaction.

“I’ve been pushing back, I’ve been saying, ‘I will walk with you all the way but I am not your problem-fixer, you have a problem netball, you fix it’,” Ella-Duncan said.

“I’ll be part of the solution but don’t come to us looking for answers because we are tired.”

Three key areas for improvement in diversity

After retiring, Finnan-White ran her own programs for Indigenous netballers with success in cities such as Townsville and Cairns.

“I went to every state around the country doing that for eight years without one cent of governing body funding … I still don’t have any governing body funding for what I’m doing,” she said.

“We are angry.

“Like Marcia I’m here to support the system, I’m not here to work against it or criticise anyone, we’re here to support the changes that need to be made.”

A Queensland Firebirds Super Netball player looks to pass against West Coast Fever.
Jemma Mi Mi is the only Indigenous player in Super Netball, but she had zero game time in the Indigenous Round.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Finnan-White identified three key areas that could make an immediate difference to netball’s lack of diversity.

“Firstly, it needs to get that declaration of commitment out as soon as possible from Netball Australia and as a collective from the states, it’s really important,” she said.

“It can’t just be a statement, it needs to have some real key principles underlying and underpinning it.

“Involving Indigenous community leaders in the conversation, listening to us, and taking what we say seriously is the second thing.

“Also, they need to start looking for funding right now to inject into some of the awesome things that are happening around the country to make sure they can continue to be sustainable.”

Long-term funding vital, says Ella-Duncan

Ella-Duncan said there has always been “a tremendous amount” of goodwill in the netball community, but the system fails.

“There needs to be a clear financial commitment because that’s one of the biggest impediments to progress,” she said.

“This will be a long journey, so the funding needs to be across a number of cycles.

“I am absolutely convinced that the states will not do anything unless they are mandated to do it and so I think there needs to be clear targets.

“In the interim there needs to be a parallel pathway program that quickly ramps up the number of kids that are being exposed to the high-performance environment.

“We are not the only culture that is grossly under-represented in the netball high performance pathway.

“I’m really interested in what can we do right now to get things moving and at the same time create an environment that is inclusive of all women and girls so that it becomes business as usual.”

Netball Queensland agrees urgent change is needed

Buckley was asked whether she could commit to the ideas as a matter of urgency.

“Yes we can, in short,” she said.

“The declaration of commitment we are co-championing with Netball Australia, so we are 100 per cent on board with that; we are 100 per cent on board with there being actual targets and being accountable to those targets — as the other states are.

“Funding? Absolutely.

“The only thing I would just need to take on notice is the parallel pathways … I’m not saying ‘no’ at all … and Marcia might be right, it might be a parallel pathway immediately with a view to get it going to get the numbers up and then merge it … but just to get something going, very happy with that.”

The Netball Queensland Chair also offered to consider adding a ninth team to the state-league Sapphire Series.

“We’ve got the flexibility to find solutions here.

“We are happy to take a whole of sport approach, not just a Queensland approach.”

Super Netball plays its final round this weekend, ahead of an October 18 grand final.



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Single customer’s action that led bank to $1.3bn fine


On a June day last year, a Westpac customer walked into his local branch.

He was just one of many who would have popped in to talk about mortgages, deposit the day’s takings or maybe ask about opening a new account.

But to the eagle-eyed teller, something didn’t seem right about the person now referred to as “Customer 12”. Alarm bells were ringing.

Despite all of Westpac’s sophisticated computer systems and its legions of head office staff, it was this teller in a local branch, who was rattled by a single customer’s suspicious behaviour, that led to the discovery of a $11 billion child exploitation network facilitated by the bank.

Even when Westpac uncovered that Customer 12 had a conviction for child exploitation offences and was making transactions that had all the hallmarks of international abuse, he was able to continue to make worrying payments from his account for months.

On Thursday, Westpac was fined $1.3 billion by financial crimes regulator Austrac for failing to stop transactions that funded child sex trafficking.

The country’s second largest bank agreed to pay the largest civil fine in Australian history, after admitting to 23 million breaches of financial crime laws relating to international transfers and transactions that funded terrorism and human trafficking to the tune of $11 billion for years.

CUSTOMER 12

In the statement of agreed facts it was revealed one Westpac customer had funded $40,000 relating to child exploitation syndicates in the Philippines from 2014 to 2018.

Most of the breaches concerned multiple low value money transfers that the bank paid less attention too. And they were done via Westpac payments systems which required minimal information to be provided by the sender.

In total, 262 paedophiles are thought to have used Westpac accounts to facilitate paedophilia.

But none of the appalling behaviour might have come to light were it not for Customer 12’s trip to his local Westpac bank branch on June 4, 2019.

He had banked with Westpac since 2001 and had been conducting what later investigations deemed to be suspicious transactions since 2016.

“A manual alert was raised by a Westpac staff member who identified potentially suspicious activity through face-to-face interactions with Customer 12,” the facts stated.

“The potentially suspicious activity concerned payments Customer 12 has made to the Philippines.

“As a result of this manual alert being raised, further investigations identified that Customer 12 had a conviction for child exploitation offences.”

It would take a further week for the bank to inform Austrac

RELATED: Westpac slugged with $1.3 billion fine over Austrac scandal

WESTPAC SLAMMED

Then Westpac’s processes slowed down. It would take more than a month, until July 13, before Westpac decided to “exit the customer”, or close down his bank accounts.

He was sent a letter informing him of that decision on July 17. But the accounts were not actually closed until August 19, two and a half months following the first red flags noted by the teller.

For all that time, Customer 12 was able to transact on the account without any heightened restrictions in place, despite the child exploitation conviction, until it was finally closed down.

“During the period 10 June 2019 to 19 August 2019, Customer 12 made nine, low value transfers through one account which was consistent with (child exploitation).”

The report said that had Westpac paid more attention to Customer 12’s transactions when he first rang alarm bells it might have been more wary of allowing those transfers to take place.

During the Austrac investigation it came to light that 262 other customers had engaged in financial activity that raised concerns of paedophilia.

Yet Westpac’s systems, that were designed to highlight suspicious activity, sometimes failed to do so for years.

In one case, a customer had been sending low value transfers to countries with a history of child sex crimes for more than five years before Westpac alerted AUSTRAC.

One of the 262 customers only had his account closed in July this year.

“Westpac failed to identify activity potentially indicative of child exploitation risks by failing to implement appropriate transaction monitoring detection scenarios,” Austrac said in a statement.

RELATED: Coronavirus forces record number of ATMs, bank branches to close

The bank had originally admitted to about 19 million of the financial crime violations after an internal compliance probe, instead of the 23 million alleged by Austrac.

The breaches were made to four overseas banks, with the processing errors related to a Westpac end-to-end technology system that did not properly record payment information.

Transfer issues also related to the installation of the LitePay payments product within the bank that facilitated overseas money transactions of up to $3000.

Austrac and the Attorney-General’s office have previously warned frequent low value payments to the Philippines could be at risk of being related to child exploitation rings.

The regulator had looked to extract $1.5bn from Westpac, with the bank aiming for a $900 million penalty. Eventually the fine came in at $1.3bn.

Westpac chief executive Peter King apologised for its failings in the bank’s systems.

“We are committed to fixing the issues to ensure that these mistakes do not happen again,” he said.

“This has been my number one priority. We have also closed down relevant products and reported all relevant historical transactions.”

After the revelations by Austrac, Westpac’s then chief executive Brian Hartzer and chairman Lindsay Maxsted were forced to depart the bank.

Westpac’s fine dwarfs the $700 million penalty that Commonwealth Bank was forced to pay in 2018, after Austrac revealed uncapped deposits on ATMs had allowed arms and drug dealers to launder money into bank accounts.

Mr King said the bank was strengthening its abilities to identify suspicious behaviour, recruiting 200 financial crime employees.

“Westpac has made substantial investments to strengthen its systems, processes and

controls to detect and report suspicious transactions,” he said.

“We are determined to continually lift our financial crime standards, comply with our

obligations and uphold our customer, community, and regulatory expectations.”



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Ministers face class action from Victorians retrenched under lockdown


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Mr Roberts told The Age he was devastated by losing his job, and was struggling to pay the bills after taking out a loan for a new car.

“I understand my boss is also struggling and he’s also finding it difficult to make ends meet. I’ve been looking for other work but there’s just nothing out there,” Mr Roberts said.

Carbone Lawyers, representing Mr Roberts, claims his retrenchment can be traced to the introduction of stage three and four restrictions, which they allege were the result
of mistakes made by Ms Mikakos, Mr Pakula, and their department secretaries during hotel quarantine.

The statement of claim filed on September 14 says: ‘‘The second wave was substantially caused by the breaches of the hotel quarantine program. ‘‘Evidence given by Dr Charles Alpren, epidemiologist at DHHS, to the hotel quarantine inquiry on 18 August 2020, to the effect that approximately 99 per cent of current cases of COVID-19 have arisen from the outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston or Stamford Plaza hotels.’’

The writ accuses Ms Mikakos and Mr Pakula of a ‘‘breach of duty’’ that prompted the lockdown which has cruelled thousands of small businesses across Melbourne.

Tony Carbone, managing partner of Carbone Lawyers, said many businesses had been wiped out during the lockdown, and employers had been forced to lay off staff.

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“We think the number of people to lose their livelihoods will increase dramatically when the JobKeeper allowance is wound back. And with all these job losses, we’re going to see a range of social and psychological problems,” Mr Carbone said.

“This action is not about small businesses putting off staff. We say they were given no other option because of the failures of this government.”

Mr Roberts said he remained hopeful his former employer would re-hire him if the economy rebounds.

Lawyers acting for Mornington Peninsula businesswoman Michelle Loielo in a separate case will ask the Supreme Court to lift Melbourne’s 9pm to 5am curfew, due to remain in force until October 26, or until the state has a 14-day average of five or fewer cases.

Sources with knowledge of the case told The Age the litigation had the backing of prominent business figures. Senior Liberal Party sources from Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula confirmed Ms Loielo was an active party member.

Ms Loielo argues the “curfew directive is invalid on the grounds of irrationality and illogicality”, and she blames the lockdown for a 99 per cent drop in her cafe revenue.

“The toll on my children is the greatest concern to me,” Ms Loielo says in a sworn affidavit.

“I am the sole financial provider for my three children and I am genuinely concerned that I am not going to be able to provide for my children if this situation continues.”

Amid the latest legal threats, Victoria recorded a welcome milestone on Tuesday, declaring no new COVID-19 deaths in the previous 24 hours. There were 42 new cases, while the 14-day average is set to trend below 50 this week.

The legal claims come as Victoria is projected to lose up to 325,000 jobs this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report released last week by the City of Melbourne, inner suburbs could lose 79,000 jobs annually over the next five years.

The cases follow a separate claim filed last month by Sydney-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, acting on behalf of Melbourne businesses that were closed or seriously damaged following the state’s second wave of infections from July 1.

The lead plaintiff in that class action is the 5 Districts NY restaurant in Keilor Park, but lawyer Damian Scattini, from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, said the firm had fielded hundreds
more inquiries from Victorian businesses since the case was filed on August 21.

A Victorian government spokeswoman said last night it was inappropriate to comment on matters before the court.

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AMP contract prevents planners from joining class action


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“They have to make that judgement call,” Mr Macdonald said. “Do you take the offer today or do you wait until the case settles which might be another one to two years?”

The class action filed by the advisers in July was triggered by changes made by AMP to a longstanding policy – the Buyer of Last Resort (BOLR) – that determines the value of their businesses.

The previous BOLR agreement was more generous than the industry standard, with retiring advisers being paid four times the annual revenue of their client books once they left the industry. The policy was part of AMP’s strategy to become the country’s largest financial planning network but was criticised in the banking royal commission for incentivising the sale of in-house financial products.

AMP chief executive Francesco De Ferrari is leading a new strategy to make its adviser network more “professional, compliant and productive” and has predicted it will result in around 30 per cent of the network dropping off.

In August last year, AMP reduced the BOLR rate to 2.5 times annual revenue in an effort to cut costs. The change has drastically pushed down the value of adviser businesses, leaving many in debt. The Age and Sydney Morning Herald has been contacted by scores of current and former advisers who claim they have developed mental health issues as a result.

“The impact that this has had on my family, staff and myself has been absolutely devastating,” said one adviser, who could not speak publicly due to signing a confidentiality agreement. “I have gone through every emotion possible and I just feel completely drained, empty, disillusioned, betrayed, angry, depressed and frightened about my future.”

The advisers claim AMP has been unwilling to negotiate better exit deals or reverse the policy for long-standing employees. One adviser, who also could not be identified for legal reasons, said his business was previously worth $2.4 million with debt of $1 million and the BOLR changes meant he now owes AMP $300,000.

“My retirement plan is now gone. I have to sell two properties and will be working for the next 10 years plus,” he said.

The adviser lawsuit is among the four class actions AMP is preparing to battle. Mr De Ferrari has publicly criticised Australia’s class action industry, claiming the litigation is increasing the cost of doing business which may lead to job losses.

An AMP spokesman said he could not comment on individual contracts with advisers for legal reasons, but pointed to an old statement regarding the “difficult but necessary” decision to change the BOLR terms.

“Throughout the process AMP has consulted with affected advisers, the industry associations and the Small Business Ombudsman, including participating in several mediation sessions with advisers. We are providing support to advisers to help them manage the BOLR changes and make an informed decision for their future,” the spokesman said.

Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill has been agitating for AMP to be brought in front of the upper house finance committee so the legality of the BOLR changes can be investigated. She secured cross-party support from Liberal whip Bert van Manen, who described the policy change as “unconscionable”.

However, the push was knocked back last week, with the majority of committee members voting against the proposal. Senator O’Neill said she was deeply disappointed by the result.

“They chose to protect the powerful AMP and leave the lingering traumatised advisors to the mercies of a long court battle,” she said. “Profit at any price is not commerce. It is exploitation.”

Senator O’Neill said the recent departure of chair David Murray and director John Fraser over showed shareholders would not tolerate poor corporate culture.

“A Parliamentary inquiry into AMP’s BOLR changes will serve as a reminder to all financial services providers will be put on notice that they cannot quietly backslide into old, bad habits.”

The news comes as AMP raised the “white flag” this week and put up parts of the company for sale following another reputational crisis involving weeks of investor pressure over its failure to appropriately deal with a sexual harassment complaint.

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Aged care homes facing legal action amid criminal negligence claims


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Mr Kontis said he had reported missing drugs of addiction, including opiates, to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

“The books are incomplete and we think there are drugs missing,” Mr Kontis said. “We feel the records are inadequate and do not indicate that these people received proper treatment between July 22 and when they were sent to hospital.”

A spokesman for Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said he had ordered an investigation into St Basil’s concerns.

“The minister has not received any such reports and has asked the department and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner to investigate this as a matter of urgency and to refer on to the relevant authorities,” the spokesman said.

The allegations came on the same day The Age received confirmation of a legal push from devastated families against St Basil’s and Epping Gardens.

The legal actions would allege that the facilities breached the duty of care they owed their residents.

Melbourne businessman Jack Karikas confirmed he would be part of an anticipated class action against St Basil’s, where his 85-year-old mother-in-law had become infected.

Mr Karikas said he and several other families had engaged lawyers to pursue St Basil’s, which is also now part of an investigation by the Victorian Coroner and police into whether some deaths could have been avoided.

“Let’s be very clear – the litigation is not about getting compensation. It’s about finding out how we got from one case on July 9 to where we are now – more than 130 cases – and why it took six days for the federal government to act,” Mr Karikas said. The number of cases connected to St Basil’s is 160.

“And what happened to the tests? We were told they were tested every second day, but now we’re finding out the tests were never sent off. They had residents mixed up and they didn’t know who was positive and who was negative.”

Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Wednesday.

Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Wednesday.Credit:Eddie Jim

Mr Karikas said civil action against St Basil’s, which is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, was the only way of establishing what went wrong.

“We have bits and pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but there’s still a lot of pieces missing,” he said.

St Basil’s was placed in the hands of replacement staff on July 22 after Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton directed the facility’s entire management and staff into quarantine to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.

Mr Kontis declined to comment on the prospect of legal action against the centre but defended the conduct of his staff.

Ambulance workers push a stretcher into the St Basil's aged care facility in Fawkner on Monday.

Ambulance workers push a stretcher into the St Basil’s aged care facility in Fawkner on Monday.Credit:Getty

“I deny all allegations against St Basil’s. We did nothing wrong up until 9am, July 22, when we left,” he said.

St Basil’s isn’t the only aged care facility facing possible litigation.

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Tony Carbone, managing partner of Carbone Lawyers, said he was acting on behalf of several families affected by the outbreak at Epping Gardens, as the number of cases linked to the facility climbed to 169 on Thursday.

Mr Carbone told The Age he expected to issue civil proceedings in the Supreme Court as early as next week against Epping Gardens.

He said there was evidence of neglect, inadequate staffing and poor training at the aged care centre even before the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“This is a human tragedy on a massive scale and many of these people should never have died,” Mr Carbone said.

Mr Carbone also warned the centre’s NSW-based operator could face serious criminal charges if an infected employee were to succumb to the virus – although this has not occurred.

“With the new industrial manslaughter charges introduced in Victoria last month, the owners are looking at custodial sentences and huge fines if a worker was to die,” Mr Carbone said.

Antonio Croce, 81, died on July 23 after he contracted coronavirus while he was a resident at Epping Gardens aged care facility. Pictured with daughter Luisa Cavarra.

Antonio Croce, 81, died on July 23 after he contracted coronavirus while he was a resident at Epping Gardens aged care facility. Pictured with daughter Luisa Cavarra.

Luisa Cavarra is another of the relatives considering legal action with Carbone Lawyers after her father, Antonio Croce, 81, died several weeks ago from COVID-19 while living at Epping Gardens.

Ms Cavarra said that in the days before her father’s death, he felt sick and was having trouble breathing. She was allowed to visit him on July 19 at the nursing home and decided to take him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He died several days later on July 23.

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“He was in pain, we couldn’t see him and it was heartbreaking that he died on his own,” she said. “We managed to do a FaceTime. The nurses at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were great. We did FaceTime and were with him till the end. But we were robbed of being with him and holding his hand.”

Mr Croce, from Italy, was “always waving to people” and was loved by everyone at the facility.

“He played cards with anyone that wanted to,” Ms Cavarra said. “I felt we were robbed. I know we had more time with my dad.”

On Thursday it was revealed a cluster of five coronavirus-related deaths among residents of St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner was being investigated by police and the state coroner.

Sources have told The Age a police taskforce would now be formed to assist the coronial investigation into five deaths at St Basil’s.

A spokeswoman from the coroner’s office said the focus of Justice John Cain’s coronial investigation was yet to be determined, but under the Coroners Act 2008, he must find, if possible, the causes of the deaths and the circumstances in which they occurred.

“His Honour is also empowered under the act to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future,” she said.

Epping Gardens declined to comment.

Victoria recorded its worst day of the pandemic on Wednesday, with 725 new cases and 15 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

On Thursday, there were 471 new cases and a further eight deaths recorded in the past 24 hours. Of those new deaths, half were linked to aged care outbreaks.

Statewide, 98 residents of aged care facilities across the state have died because of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

Of the 1754 total Victorian cases linked to aged care since the pandemic began, 810 were among residents, 641 among staff and 303 were contact cases.

There are more than 1400 active coronavirus cases linked with aged care and 103 facilities with active cases.

The federal government is the primary funder and regulator of aged care in Australia, while the state government runs a small proportion of facilities in Victoria. Under its coronavirus plan, the state government provides advice to all residential aged care facilities in the state.

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