SENIOR political figures are declining to comment on the filling of a class action law suit yesterday in the Federal Court to recover financial losses incurred from the former Labor government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia in June 2011.
As reported in Fairfax Agricultural Media, the claim for an undisclosed amount of damages is being pursued by Minter Ellison lawyers but is believed could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The claim’s lead entity is Brett Cattle Company Pty Ltd, of Waterloo Station, Timber Creek, Northern Territory, with other producers and associated businesses expected to join the action.
Today, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Shadow Minister Joel Fitzgibbon both declined to comment on the latest development in the live export industry or specifics of the legal claim.
In a statement, Mr Joyce said “As the matter is before the courts, it is not appropriate to comment on this issue”.
“However, the Coalition government will continue its efforts to rebuild and expand the live export trade following the 2011 live export ban,” he said.
“Since the Coalition came to office in September 2013, more than 1.3 million head of cattle have been exported, and the value of the live export trade, including cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats, between September 2013 and August 2014 has exceeded $1.4 billion.”
Mr Fitzgibbon faced media questioning heading into parliament in Canberra today, saying “I actually don’t want to comment on the court case”.
“But I can say the ABC television footage back in 2011 caused a lot of distress in our community, and caused a lot of pain for many players,” he said.
“The good thing is that out of it came the world’s best animal welfare system which has put the industry on a sustainable footing.
“So I am looking forward, I see a bright future for the sector and I look forward to working with it.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said in 2006 the Howard government also suspended the sheep trade to Egypt and missed an opportunity then to put the trade on a more sustainable footing.
“That’s what we did in 2011,” he said.
“It was a difficult time and a regrettable time, but the outcome now is a sector which is facing very strong growth and a sector which faces a very bright future.
“The ABC footage highlighted problems in the sector (but) the former Labor government has fixed that by putting in place the best animal welfare system in the world or at least we have addressed it as no system is perfect and there will always be an incident or two - just as there will always be work place accidents.
“But we have put the best animal welfare system in the world in place and that has put the industry on a sustainable footing.”
However, Mr Fitzgibbon conceded the Gillard government could have worked better with the industry and “bring them into the tent earlier”.
“I think with persuasion and argument the sector probably would have accepted that something needed to be done in the sector and maybe it could have been implemented in a more seamless way,” he said.
“But having said that, while it caused a lot of pain it has had positive outcomes and the positive outcome of course being a welfare system, an animal welfare system, which has put the industry on a sustainable footing.”
A Neutral Evaluation of the claim conducted by former Federal Court of Australia judge and Royal Commissioner Roger Gyles was filed in the Federal Court yesterday to initiate legal proceedings.
His 33-page evaluation outlines specifics of the claim being made against the Commonwealth by Minter Ellison lawyers and notes its potential to "prove liability".
A draft statement to the claim filed in the court alleges the second Export Control Order made by then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig on June 7, 2011 - restricting exports to Indonesia for six months - was “invalid” and “made with reckless disregard of its invalidity and consequences”.
An initial claim was rejected by the Australian Government Solicitor in May 2012 as Minter Ellison pushed for an out-of-court settlement with the Gillard government.