Objectors to the duplication of the Western Highway between Ararat and Beaufort must pay the state government's costs for participating in the failed legal proceedings, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In June, a Supreme Court justice decided the government's planning approval of the project was valid, bringing an end to a four-year legal stoush.
Farmers MairiAnne and Iona Mackenzie - whose land had been acquired for the highway duplication - brought the case forward in late 2016. Another group who advocated for an alternative duplication route was also a plaintiff.
They argued decisions made by planning ministers four years apart were invalid and in result, works on the project were unlawful.
In dismissing the case, Justice Richards said: "none of the grounds relied upon by the plaintiffs has been made out, and there is no basis for the declarations they seek."
Following the ruling, the plaintiffs argued that they should not have to pay costs - a departure from the usual rule -because their case was in the public interest and "concerned significant questions of public and environmental law."
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The justice did not believe the plaintiff's prime motivation was to uphold the public interest and protect the rule of law.
"I accept that MairiAnne Mackenzie and Iona Mackenzie both held genuine concerns about the removal of large old trees and other native vegetation," she wrote.
"However, they were less concerned about the removal of trees and native vegetation for their preferred alternative (highway) alignments.
"For that reason, it appears to me that their dominant objective throughout has been to avert the construction of a highway across their land. They acknowledge that this involves 'an element of public interest'."
VicRoads sought that costs be paid on an indemnity basis from February 2020 because the plaintiffs did not accept an offer to settle the proceedings.
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Together, VicRoads and the Minister agreed to orders that would allow the proceedings to stop, or be dismissed with no costs ordered to be paid.
The plaintiffs did not accept this offer.
"The critical question in relation to VicRoads' claim for indemnity costs is whether it was unreasonable in all the circumstances for the plaintiffs not to accept VicRoads' offer at the time," Justice Richards wrote.
The justice found many factors were in VicRoads' favour; with the offer being made in advance of the trial, was a significant compromise on VicRoad's behalf and foreshadowed an application for indemnity costs if it was not accepted.
However, in rejecting the calls for indemnity costs, the justice noted the plaintiffs were only given seven days to respond, and the offer did not give any reasons for the plaintiffs to reconsider their claim.
"The plaintiffs had to make a decision about the offer without the benefit of the defendants' written openings - which spelled out, clearly and in detail, why the plaintiffs' claim could not succeed," she wrote.
"In these circumstances, I conclude that it was not unreasonable for the plaintiffs not to accept the offer."
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