In Warner v Isaac Regional Council  QDC
186, the District Court has given a timely reminder to
Queensland local governments that they cannot simply charge
whatever amount they wish when taking steps for
Do councils need to prove their costs are reasonable?
The Council in this case obtained an enforcement order under the
Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) requiring the Appellant to
remove structures or things alleged to be hazardous to human health
from her property in Moranbah. The Appellant allegedly failed to
take the required steps, so three Council staff members and seven
cleaning contractors entered the Appellant's property in
compliance with the order.
The Council claimed a total of $48,990.63 from the Appellant for
the costs of complying with the enforcement order: $31,000 for
cleaners, $7,193 for the erection of a pool fence, $330 for pest
control, $154 for lawn mowing, and $9,503.29 for legal costs. The
Council alleged that local cleaning agencies in Moranbah refused to
assist, so it engaged cleaning contractors from Emerald.
In the Magistrates Court, the Appellant argued that the steps
the Council took were excessive and that the costs claimed by the
Council were unreasonable, because:
the Council's decision to engage the Emerald cleaners
instead of local cleaners resulted in excessive costs;
the Council claimed cleaning costs for a greater number of
workers and a longer period of time than the work the Appellant
actually observed; and
the costs claimed by the Council for the pool fence were
unnecessary because the Appellant intended to fill in the pool, and
therefore did not need a replacement fence.
The Council argued that it did not need to prove that the costs
were reasonable, and that the Appellant could not raise
reasonableness or excessiveness as a defence.
The Magistrate agreed with the Council and ordered summary
judgment against the Appellant. The Appellant subsequently appealed
to the District Court, arguing that she had real prospects of a
successful defence and that the matter should go to trial.
The right to challenge excessive costs
The District Court ruled that the Appellant was entitled to
challenge the Council's costs on the grounds that the costs
were unreasonable and excessive, and set aside the Magistrate's
The Court held that local governments cannot simply charge any
amount they wish when taking enforcement action. It is a
fundamental civil right that a person be given the chance to be
heard, and local government claims for exorbitant amounts can be
challenged as a matter of procedural fairness. In an extreme
example, if a Council charged $1 million to remove a single
car wreck, an individual would clearly have the right to challenge
the amount of the claim on the basis that it is excessive.
Local governments taking steps for enforcement should keep in
mind that they cannot spend as much as they like and expect to
claim back the costs – the charges must be reasonable.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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