Mammoth court battle to start

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 Nov 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


A four-month Federal Court trial starting in February is expected QUEENSLAND faces a spectacular four-month Federal Court trial starting February is expected to call Premier Rob Borbidge, former Premier Wayne Goss, ministers, and their advisers.

The trial is to decide a $43 million lawsuit by J.L. Holdings Pty Ltd, owned by developer Godfrey Mantle, well known as the man behind three Jimmys On The Mall restaurants in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall.

Mr Mantle claims that in 1991, the Goss government reneged on an approval by the former Ahern government for J.L.Holdings to build a $25 million riverside attraction at the base of Brisbane's Kangaroo Point cliffs - of similar scale to South Bank.

In a written judgement handed down in Melbourne on October 29, the Full Bench of the Federal Court comprising Justices Tony Whitlam, Ross Sundberg, and Christopher Carr, removed the final obstacle to the trial, to take place before Justice Susan Kiefel in Brisbane starting February 18.

Mr Mantle's 169-page statement of claim alleges breach of copyright, breach of agreement for lease, inducement to breach lease, civil conspiracy, defamation, negligence, breach of statutory duty, contravention of the Trade Practices Act, and fraud.

He also alleges that the government conspired with South Bank to ensure it opened before the Kangaroo Point development, and that concepts and plans for the cliff development had been incorporated in the South Bank plan.

However what makes the trial highly political and stunningly interesting is an earlier decision by Justice Kiefel to order the release of masses of confidential Cabinet material to Mr Mantle's lawyers.

These Cabinet minutes, Cabinet advice, and Cabinet submissions, briefing notes, and agendas, and government internal correspondence with the Crown Law Office are expected to become public information during the trial.

Preliminary hearings in the Federal Court suggest this case will examine the integrity and lawfulness of the Government's dealings with Mr Mantle through an examination of actions by the Premier, the Office of Cabinet, senior ministers, public servants and advisers who dealt with him.

The documents detail the roles of former government members including Mr Goss, Office of Cabinet director-general Kevin Rudd, Mr Goss's then private secretary David Barbagello, Administrative Services Minister Ron McLean, and director-general Ross Dunning.

Mr Mantle's statement of claim also alleges that the government deliberately deceived him when it invited him to make a submission as to why his project should continue at least two months after Cabinet had axed the project.

The most recent development was Justice Kiefel's decision on August 28 to reject a State Government request to alter its defence against Mr Mantle.

Justice Kiefel ruled that the alterations would have delayed Mr mantle's trial another year. This, she said, "would amount to severe prejudice against the applicant".

"I have ... taken the view that the most relevant consideration is whether the amendment would jeopardise those hearing dates", she said.

On October 29, the Full bench of the Federal Court rejected an appeal by the government against this decision, and paved the way for the trial in February.

Mr Mantle's original claim of $77 million against the Queensland Government and the South Bank Corporation was amended to around $43 million after his solicitors obtained an expert's report which has been lodged with the Federal Court.