Torres Strait council's $66m maritime bills 'invalid'

A judge has appealed to a far north Queensland council and an Australian shipping company to settle differences outside court after declaring a multimillion-dollar bill issued by the local authority invalid.

Torres Strait Island Regional Council (TSIRC) issued 253 default maritime fee invoices totalling over $66 million to Sea Swift on December 21 last year, giving them seven days - over the Christmas period - to appeal.

But Brisbane Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth found the decision to impose the fee for the period from April 2015 to June 2018 was beyond the power conferred on the council.

Declaring the invoices invalid, he appealed for an "early mediated resolution" before more money is spent on litigation saying legal costs to date must be enormous.

"The remarkable and admirable citizens of these communities, like the shipping company that services their communities, can spend their finite financial resources on better things than lawyers and litigation funders," Justice Applegarth said in a judgment handed down on Monday.

His encouragement to mediate was not intended to deprive lawyers or work or the council's litigation funder of its slice of any eventual court award. 

"It is intended to ensure that the parties’ financial resources are preserved; in Sea Swift’s case so it can deploy its resources on servicing the communities for an affordable price, and in the case of TSIRC on the welfare of the remarkable people that it governs."

The 15 council owned and operated barge ramps and finger jetties are the primary means by which fuel, food, passengers and general cargo are transported to and from the 15 islands the TSIRC governs.

Operators like Sea Swift, which has a valid permit and pays maritime charges, are required to report their use in a prescribed form so the council can accurately calculate and invoice for fees.

The DMF regime as it was called and the manner of its calculation was not the subject of any council resolution.

Sea Swift supplied 120,000 documents including logbooks for the council to examine the accuracy of the company self-reporting after a Federal Court application.

Council lawyers issued invoices for $66,543,146 with a letter of demand to Sea Swift at 11.13pm on December 21.

The invoices did not reflect the information that was known to the TSIRC and its lawyers about the actual number of stops on each island each month, the duration of each stop, the amount of cargo discharged, landed or trans-shipped, or the nature of the cargo. 

Justice Applegarth appealed for a quick resolution saying it will be up to the Federal Court to decide on the disputed 253 alleged instances of inaccurate self-reporting by Sea Swift and standard maritime fees the company owes because of under-reporting its use of council facilities.

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store