Live-ex ban compensation still on hold as cattle businesses suffer

Shan Goodwin
By Shan Goodwin
Updated May 4 2022 - 5:05am, first published 4:00am
ONGOING PAIN: Hedland Export Depot's Paul Brown, Western Australia, says cattle businesses are still feeling the effects of an illegal decision to ban the live export trade to Indonesia, made in 2011 by the then Labor government.

OUTBACK businesses are still shutting up on the back of the Gillard Government's illegal 2011 ban on the live cattle trade to Indonesia but now it's the wait for compensation that is proving the final straw.

It's two years since the Federal Court ruled that former Labor agriculture minister Joe Ludwig committed misfeasance in public office when he made the ban order, making it invalid and the Federal Government liable for compensation.

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Still, the hundreds of businesses, ranging from cattle producers to transport operators, involved in the class action have not received compensation.

Lead claimants, the Northern Territory's Brett family were immediately awarded nearly $3m in damages but the other parties in the class action have since been working with lawyers MinterEllison and the Australian Farmers' Fighting Fund, which fronted the money for the legal battle, to nut out monetary values on losses. They are seeking more than $600m in compensation.

The lawyers have now submitted loss statements and suggested the Federal Government agree on a total sum to be distributed.

That places the ball firmly in the Commonwealth's court and beef industry leaders are calling on it to act quickly and fairly.

Frustration has hit overdrive that no money has been paid and the process has been dragged out for so long.

AFFF chairman Hugh Nivison described it as ridiculous.

"Both sides of politics have acknowledged the decision was wrong. We need to get on with paying the compensation," he said.

"What we are asking now is that the Commonwealth agree to the lawyers' recommendations and move quickly.

"What we don't want is for every single loss statement to be contested, forcing us to arbitrate every claim. That will take a lot of time.

"The longer it pushes out, the more potential loss to businesses."

Demonstrable losses have been widespread, Mr Nivison said.

They range from producers who couldn't sell cattle, were hit with massive agistment fees or saw their farms decrease in value to freight companies, spelling yards, agents, exporters and others.

"All have slightly different categories of losses, ranging from entire businesses and homes to lost opportunities," he said.

An agreement on a figure from the Commonwealth tomorrow could possibly mean compensation payments flow by the end of this year, according to Mr Nivison.

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Too little, too late

For Western Australia's Hedland Export Depot, a 4500 head feedlot and quarantine facility at Boodarie in the state's north, the wait has gone on too long.

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The facility is for sale.

Owner Paul Brown said he had hoped the compensation money would allow him to invest, diversify and keep afloat.

He puts the situation firmly on the doorstep of Mr Ludwig.

"The numbers in our feedlot were increasing exponentially at the time the 2011 ban came down," he said.

"Indonesia was taking big numbers and a big range, right up to slaughter-ready cattle.

"Business fell off a cliff overnight and hasn't recovered since."

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Producers immediately starting sending cattle south for backgrounding rather than export and while Hedland has diversified, and has had some numbers of live-ex cattle go through in the past five years, Mr Brown said it had been cost neutral for some time.

"There are businesses still falling through the cracks because of this decision - businesses that have hung on for ten years and just can't anymore," he said.

"The court win was monumental but with no end in sight in terms of compensation being paid, we just can't go on."

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Shan Goodwin

Shan Goodwin

National Agriculture Writer - Beef

Shan Goodwin steers ACM’s national coverage of the beef industry. Shan has worked as a journalist for 30 years, the majority of that with agricultural publications. She spent many years as The Land’s North Coast reporter and has visited beef properties and stations throughout the country and overseas. She treats all breeds equally.

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