THE plaintiffs in the landmark class action claim against the Commonwealth Government over the infamous 2011 Indonesian live cattle export ban are quietly confident their legal arguments are making ground.
The Northern Territory’s Brett Cattle Company are lead litigants in the legal action that is seeking to prove misfeasance in former Labor Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s decision to suspend the live cattle trade to Indonesia for up to six months in mid-2011.
The minister’s decision came in response to unprecedented public backlash ignited by dramatic television footage of animal cruelty filmed by animal activists in Indonesia abattoirs.
If successful, this will be the first time a case of misfeasance has been proven against an Australian Government minister.
The plaintiffs are seeking $600 million in compensation.
The Federal Court is this week hearing evidence of detriment in the second phase of the case, following the liability hearing in June.
This phase of the case is set down for three weeks.
Justice Steven Rares will then consider the evidence, with a judgment not expected until next year.
Facilitator of the class action, former Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association boss Tracey Hayes said the plaintiffs, made up of around 300 producers and representatives of other sectors of the live cattle trade supply chain, were satisfied the case was progressing well.
The week started with potent testimony from producer Emily Brett, who walked the court through the process of beef production in northern Australia and the importance of the Indonesian live export market on not just the pastoral industry but the many other businesses reliant on it.
Ms Hayes said the Brett’s property, Waterloo, had several thousand animals mustered in yards, with a contract for sale in place, when the suspension decision was made.
“It was within 48 hours of the cattle going to market. The ban happened at critical time and that is a key factor,” Ms Hayes said.
“It was mid-way through the dry season when people were getting cattle off and preparing for the next wet season.
“People were caught with full herds and diminishing pastures.
The pressure put on businesses and systems was intense.
Cattle weren’t at slaughter weights and so feedlot placements and agistment options in Queensland had to be found. Cattle then had to be trucked over 3500 kilometres.
“Tens of thousands of tonnes in lick and fodder had to be purchased,” Ms Hayes said.
“It was like a severe drought hit overnight and that played out right across the north.”
It was four months before cattle were able to be sold in eastern and southern regions and the flood on those markets impacted the industry across the nation.
Ms Hayes said these factors had been spelt out in court this week.
Legal action was not the first preference of the plaintiffs, she said.
“We tried as much as possible to encourage a negotiated outcome,” Ms Hayes said.
“As part of that process we undertook a neutral evaluation by a retired federal court judge who concluded the case had meaningful prospects of success.
“Normally that is enough to see an outcome negotiated out of court.”
The group launched their court action in 2014.
Other witnesses to appear over the next week include people involved in the live export business in Indonesia and consultants who conducted economic analysis on losses.
Ms Hayes said seven years down the track the hurt was still intense and many of the plaintiffs were seeking closure.