ANIMAL RIGHTS activists are attempting to invoke constitutional protection as part of their case to

08 Feb, 2007 07:00 PM

At last week¹s directions hearing in Sydney, Federal Court judge Justice Steven Rares said the complainants had to inform each state and territory¹s attorney-general that the case would raise a constitutional issue of freedom of speech relating to political matters.

The cost to industry of battling activists has topped $10 million.

AWI deputy chief executive officer Les Targ said a signifi-cant proportion of the $10m spent on local and international public relations, legal firms, media campaigns and other professional advice would be repaid if AWI won the court case.

Mr Targ said the money had been well-spent anyway.

³It has been expensive and that is why we claimed for da-mages in the first place,² he said. ³I hate to think where the demand for wool would be if we hadn¹t taken any action against those groups.

³You only have to see the current auctions to see how healthy demand for wool now is.²

AWI and PETA have each remained confident about winning the case and neither shows any sign of backing down from the increasingly costly spat.

PETA lawyers have stated they believe the AWI case is exceptionally weak.

The case has begun the discovery stage, where both sides extract relevant informa-tion from each other.

AWI will have its day in court in October, after presi-ding Justice Rares said the case would go to trial with three months set aside to hear it.

Last week the Federal Court ordered 100 woolgrowers to be named in the case as co-applicants to declare their wool levy payments in recent years.

The growers are named along with AWI, Elders and BWK Elders.

According to Mr Targ, AWI has been keen to separate the growers in the action to allow for the streamlining of the case.

³We think that will help bring the case on a little more quickly and running them separately will inform everybody as to whether the other co-applicants also have a case,² he said.

PETA lawyers told Rural Press that AWI went to the trouble of joining the woolgrowers and accused AWI of saying they did not want to press their claims at the October trial.

³If AWI has genuine claims then they should run them now,² the PETA lawyer said.

Mr Targ responded by suggesting AWI didn¹t have a strong view either way, but thought the offer would bring the case on a little more quickly.

In his speech at the 2005 AWI annual general meeting, then AWI chairman Ian McLachlan said PETA¹s actions had not damaged the wool industry.

Mr Targ said AWI still had a strong case to prove that PETA activities had damaged the wool industry.

³What Ian was referring to was the effect on retailers and how many had boycotted Australian wool industry,² he said.

³There was an initial flurry but by the time that speech was given there was no mass defection from wool.²



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