THE future of the live export industry may well hinge on the success or failure of a court case mounted against Emanuel Exports by animal welfare group Animals Australia.
A hearing to be held in the Perth Magistrate's Court today will further examine the export firm's challenge of the validity of the claims made against them by animal lobbyists.
WA Police acting on behalf of the State solicitor's office charged the live export company with animal cruelty offences on November 9, 2005, alleging a breach of the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002.
The charges were made as a result of an investigation completed by Animals Australia investigator and former South Australian policewoman Lyn White.
The group alleged that a shipment of sheep on the vessel MV Al Kuwait, which departed from Fremantle for the Middle East in December 2003, breached various sections of the state Act.
The charges were laid against Emanuel Exports Pty Ltd as well as two of its directors.
The case has been adjourned since November 2005 so Emanuel Exports could seek legal advice.
Today, the court is expected to set a hearing date in six months.
Emanuel Exports will challenge the validity of the charges and use section 109 of the Australian Constitution to argue that the WA Animal Welfare Act should not have been used to charge the company.
The section states that federal law overrides state law.
Live export companies are controlled by federal legislation.
Emanuel Exports will argue that they should not have been charged by state laws when they are controlled under these federal laws.
An Emanuel Exports spokesperson said the state laws were drafted for pet owners and not large scale export companies.
The spokesperson said the state laws were never intended to control the export industry.
Emanuel Exports will also vigorously defend any animal welfare claims made against the company.
Animal activist groups have viewed the charges as a step forward in their campaign to stop live exports.
Animals Australia executive director Glenys Oogjes, at the time, applauded the WA government, state solicitor's office and WA police for examining their evidence and laying the charges.
Mr Oogjes said the Al Kuwait voyage was an entire representation of the industry, which was why Animals Australia laid the complaint.
She put her faith in the WA judicial system to determine whether live animal exports breached the Animal Welfare Act.
This week WA farmer lobby group the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) affirmed that livestock producers were counting on the court to reject the animal welfare claims.
PGA meat and livestock committee chairman Tim D'Arcy said the entire livestock industry would be at risk if the court upheld claims under the WA Animal Welfare Act against the live exporter.
He said the judgment would determine the fate of the live sheep and cattle export trades and could potentially clutter the courts with animal welfare claims against farmers and animal handlers.
"It is a precedent capable of bringing down one of our most valuable industries, and we are hoping for a positive, rational outcome," Mr D'Arcy said.