June 3, 2020


Court favours Northern Australian cattle producers against unlawful ban



Northern Australian cattle producers received favourable ruling from the Federal Court today against a live export ban imposed by the Commonwealth government in 2011, ABC News reported.


The 300-strong class action started in 2014, seeking AUD600 million in compensation for lost income as a result of the ban.


After 18 months of deliberation, Justice Steven Rares ruled former agriculture minister Joe Ludwig acted with misfeasance when the then Gillard government introduced the ban.


In delivering his judgment, Justice Rares said the ban order was "capricious" and "unreasonable".


He said, "I am comfortably satisfied, based on the whole of the evidence, that the minister was recklessly indifferent as to first, the availability of his power to make the Ban Order in its absolutely prohibitory terms without providing any power of exception and, secondly, as to the injury which the order, when effectual, was calculated to produce.


Accordingly, the minister committed misfeasance in public office when he made the Ban Order on June 7, 2011."


Class-action spokeswoman Tracey Hayes said the ban was "an attack on the industry by our own Commonwealth" that "inflicted a decade of pain" on the lead plaintiffs Emily Brett and her late husband Dougal.


"The truth is, the shutdown was not required," Hayes said. "To enact the changes needed in some offshore facilities, it simply was not necessary."


She said farmers' livelihoods would not have been hit had "calmer heads prevailed".


Hayes also pleaded with the Commonwealth to not proceed with an appeal against today's decision.


The Gillard government's action came after an ABC Four Corners investigation into Indonesian abattoirs.


In response to the outrage in the community, then-Senator Ludwig announced that trade to those abattoirs would stop.


Justice Rares found that then-Senator Ludwig ordered the ban despite knowing that industry representatives had assured him exports could be conducted in a tightly controlled manner.


He also found that he had made no attempt to explore solutions with the Indonesian government and there was no advice from his Department about an exclusive ban on exports to Indonesia


Justice Rares said there was "a real risk that, if he made the order in the form he adopted, it might be invalid. Yet, with that knowledge the Minister plunged ahead regardless. He made the Ban Order shutting his eyes to the risk that it might be invalid and to the damage that it was calculated to cause persons in the position of Brett Cattle."


"We suffered immense financial hardship because of the ban, so much stress, it was overwhelming at times," Emily Brett said. "But we knew that what had happened was wrong."


Justice Rares said Brett Cattle was "entitled to substantial damages" and said the "minister and the Commonwealth must pay its costs of the proceeding".