The cost of fighting the Federal Government in the successful class action by cattle producers would be north of $4 million, a lawyer has said.
The cost of fighting the Federal Government in the successful class action by cattle producers would be north of $4 million, a lawyer has said.

Cattle export ban class action legal bill more than $4m

THE cost of fighting the Federal Government in the ultimately successful class action brought on by NT cattle producers would be north of $4 million, a prominent agribusiness lawyer has said.

A 300-strong class action led by family-owned Brett Cattle Company was vindicated on Tuesday after the Federal Court ruled the decision by then agriculture minister Joe Ludwig to blanket ban live cattle export to Indonesia was "invalid" and "unreasonable".

Victorious live cattle export ban class action litigants Colin Brett and his wife Alison Brett with son Hamish Brett, who now runs the family's Brett Cattle Co. operation at Waterloo Station in the Northern Territory. The group are pictured at live cattle export yards in Darwin.
Victorious live cattle export ban class action litigants Colin Brett and his wife Alison Brett with son Hamish Brett, who now runs the family's Brett Cattle Co. operation at Waterloo Station in the Northern Territory. The group are pictured at live cattle export yards in Darwin.

The case relied on the little used tort of misfeasance in public office, effectively where a public officer misuses their power while purportedly trying to do their job, despite knowing the impacts it could have.

Agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne, of Brisbane's McCullough Robertson, said a case like this was time consuming, expensive and had a very high burden of proof.

He said the litigation, which he estimates could cost between $4 and $5 million, would not have been financially possible without the National Farmers Federation and its Australian Farmers Fighting Fund, which was set up for this purpose more than 30 years ago.

The verdict by Justice Steven Rares in favour of the Brett Cattle Company and the other plaintiffs paves the way for a "substantial" payout from the Federal Government, with lawyers asking for $600 million to cover financial loss.

The Federal Government, as of Tuesday, has 28 days to lodge an appeal, though even Coalition politicians have indicated they'd rather the government accept the decision.

Queensland Senator Susan McDonald, who hails from a grazing family, said she hoped the government would "accept the Justice's ruling and compensate appropriately" noting the devastating impact the 2011 ban had on the industry and supporting sectors that were "smashed overnight", including transport companies and suppliers.

Mr Thorne said "it's just madness" if the Commonwealth thought they could appeal.

Originally published as Cattle export ban class action legal bill likely more than $4 million


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