Pastoralists have won their case against the Federal Government over a ban on cattle live exports to Indonesia in 2011.
In a decision handed down in the Federal Court this morning, Justice Rares said the government acted unlawfully in banning the trade.
In 2011, the Federal Government overnight suspended all live cattle exports to Indonesia after the airing of an ABC television program which exposed animal cruelty in overseas abattoirs.
The suspension of the trade hit NT pastoralists hard.
Justice Rares today said: "Brett Cattle is entitled to substantial damages and that the Minister and the Commonwealth must pay its costs of the proceeding."
Brett Cattle, the operators of Waterloo Station about 500km south west of Katherine, were the lead litigants in the long-running class action against the Government and then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig.
The action has sought $600 million in compensation from the Federal Government.
The Federal Court has ordered a further case management hearing set down for several weeks to further discuss the findings and potential compensation.
The case has been before the court for six years and the final judgement was handed down today, after 18 months of deliberation by Justice Rares.
Nine years ago the then Federal Minister for Agriculture Senator Joe Ludwig, acting on behalf of the Government, shut down the live cattle export trade into Indonesia overnight, crippling an industry and the livelihoods of families and communities across Northern Australia and Indonesia.
Justice Rares said in his judgement, Minister Ludwig was capricious and unreasonable in his decision.
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."
An ABC program which aired on May 30, 2011 featured animal welfare abuses in some Indonesian abattoirs processing Australian cattle.
The industry was shut down through the first export control order on June 2 and sealed with a final and devastating export control order on June 7, 2011.
With today's decision, it is expected many others will seek compensation for the long-term devastation caused to the industry.
The impact of the shutdown affected transport companies, vets, livestock agents and associated careers, contractors and local businesses who were all gearing up for the season and many never recovered, the farm groups said.
"I have found that the Ban Order was invalid," Justice Rares said.
"That was because it prohibited all exports without any provision allowing him to make exceptions so as to allow exporters to carry on their lawful business where they already did, or readily could, have a closed loop supply chain in Indonesia with animal welfare standards at least equivalent to those in the OIE Code. Such a total prohibition was capricious and unreasonable and made the Ban Order invalid.
"When he made the Ban Order, the Minister knew that:
. it would prohibit any exports to Indonesia without any exception in an industry that in 2010 had exported over 500,000 live cattle worth about $400 million;
. the industry representatives had told him that there were supply chains in Indonesia that had, or readily could be, adjusted to have a closed loop system with animal welfare standards that were at least compliant with the OIE Code;
. he had made no attempt to explore agreeing an appropriate solution with the Indonesian Government and that an order prohibiting all exports there would cause that Government concern;
. he had no Departmental advice to make an order in a form that affected only exports to Indonesia;
. he had no legal advice that he could make lawfully the, or any, order in such a form; and
. 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.
"The applicants are seeking $600m in compensation, which was the estimate of the losses incurred by the 300 entities involved.
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