THE live export ban class action compensation claim was discussed in the Coalition’s joint party room meeting yesterday, by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and others.
One unnamed MP said the cattle exporters making the class action claim had been devastated because of a decision made by the previous government, and should not be put through the stress of having to take legal action to protect their interests.
Mr Abbott responded by describing Labor’s decision to suspend the live cattle trade as perhaps the worst ever decision any Australian government has ever made.
He said the good news was the live cattle trade is now booming.
However, he also said the government had to be very careful in assuming that everyone with a claim against the Commonwealth had a claim that has to be met.
Mr Abbott said the interests of justice had to be served along with the interests of taxpayers, and therefore the Commonwealth would run the case as a best practice litigant.
It’s understood a best practice litigant would mean the Commonwealth, as party to any litigation, would need to adhere to rules regarding proper conduct and avoid poor practices like deliberately delaying proceedings to try and exhaust the other party’s finances.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said – in terms of a mooted legal action underway – it would be “most unwise of any political figure to start playing judge and jury on these matters”.
“I spoke at the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) Congress last week and I made clear that I believe what happened with live cattle export bans was a problem, has been a problem and I think all of us have learnt lessons from that,” he said.
At the NFF Congress, Mr Shorten said the “pause in live exports, followed by drought was the cause of real hardship in the North”.
“We’ve all learned from that,” he said.
“Perhaps we should have done things differently then – but today we can be proud that Australia’s world-leading animal welfare system has put the trade on a sustainable footing, giving us opportunities to grow and reach new markets.”
Liberal MP Hume Angus Taylor said the single most important thing government could do for cattle producers was to get the live export trade going strongly again.
“This was a terrible decision by the previous Labor government,” he said.
“It crippled a crucial export industry, creating a glut in the market by filling the abattoirs and sharply driving down farm gate cattle prices. It’s still recovering today.
“I will not be commenting on the court action, but it’s well and truly open to these claimants to go ahead with their claim.
“What I will say is that we have to make sure that we spend taxpayer dollars well, we have to be a model litigant in this case and that’s what we will be doing.”
Former Agriculture Minister Senator Joe Ludwig was on leave overseas and his office referred inquiries to the Labor’s Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) chief Alison Penfold said her group was not a party to the class action claim and “as such I won't be commenting on it”.
“We are however conscious that closure needs to be brought on the events of 2011 particularly for producers and other suppliers to the trade that were so negatively impacted by the ban,” she said.
“From an exporters’ perspective, we are very much future focused on building a sustainable industry.”
The issue is expected to be hotly debated at the live export industry’s biannual LIVEX Forum in Melbourne on Thursday, which will discuss, market access, reforms to the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, animal welfare and other activities or initiatives.
ALEC is also expected to confirm its new chairman this week, with former Labor powerbroker and one-time Agriculture Minister Simon Crean expected to replace outgoing chair, Peter Kane.