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Navy recruits sue over training absence


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A judge has labelled a navy contract as shoddy, a sham and "a delusion" in a civil case where more than 200 recruits are suing the Commonwealth claiming they did not receive promised training.

"The whole thing is a very curious course of dealing to my mind," Justice Desmond Fagan said in the NSW Supreme Court on Monday.

Former sailor Clayton William Searle is the lead claimant in an action involving 283 people - 127 still in the navy - who state they didn't receive promised training which could have been used in their civil life.

In opening the class action on Monday their barrister, Nick Kidd SC, said their contracts had been binding but were not honoured by the Royal Australian Navy.

Their particular training contract, which he said was separate to their main enlistment agreements, was used by the navy between June 2011 and October 2012.

Mr Kidd said that in June 2014 the recruits were told they could not obtain the "certificate IV" anymore and would need to enter a different contract.

"(The navy) were unable to and never intended to provide training or qualification for certificate IV - referred to in this contract," he said.

Justice Fagan commented on the contract saying "the document is just a delusion". He asked "what is the sham document for" and noted "it looks extremely shoddy".

He expressed surprise that such an "explicit and apparently binding agreement would be made" to be later disowned.

Gregory Sirtes SC, for the Commonwealth which is fighting the case, noted the judge had expressed "strong views" which had been shared by senior navy personnel.

He said a review had been held about what had happened and how it could be avoided in the future, and it was quite apparent the navy formed the view it was "executed poorly".

But, he said, this did not mean the class action claims had a legal standing and sometimes "some things don't work out as planned".

In his affidavit, the now 25-year-old Mr Searle said he grew up in Rockhampton in Queensland and started his service with the navy in January 2011 when he was 18, signing a document stating he was joining for four years.

"It was the first full-time job I had ever had and was the first time that I had a job where I could also achieve trade qualifications," he said.

He referred to being posted to the fleet support unit at HMAS Kuttabul in Sydney in October 2011.

But during 10 months he spent a lot of time sitting around with friends playing games on their phones, as there was nothing for them to do, while others went to the gym or went home.

The hearing is continuing.