Cow ban goes to court
Companies from all parts of the cattle export supply chain will be involved in a class action against the Commonwealth.
From graziers to shipping firms, many thousands of jobs and millions of dollars were put on the line by a “knee-jerk” live export ban in 2011.
Now, a class action has been mounted to establish who was liable and whether money should be paid, after animal abuse footage aired on ABC led to then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig imposing the ban.
Brett Cattle Company Pty Ltd of the Northern Territory is the lead entity in the claim, which is backed by the Australian Farmers' Fighting Fund.
Lawyers’ statements to the Federal Court claim that the Export Control Order (restricting exports to Indonesia for six months) made by Mr Ludwig in June 2011 was “invalid”.
An earlier claim was rejected by the Australian Government Solicitor in 2012, but a Neutral Evaluation of that claim (conducted by former Federal Court of Australia judge and Royal Commissioner Roger Gyle) emboldened the move to litigate.
While the NT cattle company leads the charge, others will join in the legal fight to regain losses from the suspension.
Those seeking damages say the hasty ban on live export hit the northern export market hard, right in the middle of the industry's peak trading and stock-movement time.
Cattle were stranded between markets and even waiting at ports to be moved, as the Federal Government struggled with ways to stop the mistreatment of stock once it reached overseas markets.
The case has been backed to the tune of $750,000 by the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund (AFFF), which takes on legal cases for the farming sector.
The independent evaluation accompanying the new claims says the order to ban exports was “so irrational as to be both unreasonable and out of proportion to the subject in the sense outlined in the authorities and so invalid”.
Reports say the Commonwealth has seen this coming, evident in the last three federal budget papers containing funds link to a potential compensation payout.
“The Australian government has received correspondence that indicates there are a number of potential claimants who are alleging losses due to the temporary suspension of exports of live animals to Indonesia that was put in place on 7 June, 2011,” recent budget papers said.
“The Australian government is not currently a party to any litigated claims where legal liability for financial compensation is being claimed in relation to this suspension.”