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NFF urges Federal Government to finally settle live cattle case at $510 million plus costs and interest

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Aidan SmithCountryman
The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed a counteroffer made to the Commonwealth Government to hopefully close the long-running class action of those left devastated by the unlawful closure of the live cattle export trade in 2011.
Camera IconThe National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed a counteroffer made to the Commonwealth Government to hopefully close the long-running class action of those left devastated by the unlawful closure of the live cattle export trade in 2011. Credit: Alex Massey/North West Telegraph

The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed a counteroffer made to the Commonwealth Government to hopefully close the long-running class action of those left devastated by the unlawful closure of the live cattle export trade in 2011.

The applicant in the class action has made an open offer in good faith to the Commonwealth of $510 million, plus costs and interest, which would likely be top out at between $800m and $900m to settle the Brett Cattle Company Pty Ltd v Minister for Agriculture (2020) FCA 732 class action.

The NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said the settlement amount would be “a fair and equitable end” to what the Federal Court has found was malfeasance by the Gillard government to destroy the live cattle export trade in Australia.

The group of 215 parties to the class action include cattle producers, exporters and independent service providers, such as veterinarians and musterers, who were devastated by the government decision to end the live cattle trade virtually overnight and are still waiting on compensation.

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National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar. Picture Chalk Studio
Camera IconNational Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar. Picture Chalk Studio Credit: National Farmers' Federation wit

“This latest settlement offer is an attempt to bring to an end a very painful chapter in the history of Australian agriculture that has done severe and unnecessary damage to producers, their families and the broader supply chain,” Mr Mahar said.

“The government’s political decision to end live export, showed scant regard for its own departmental advice, and caused widespread financial damage, family break-ups, and even suicide among those impacted.

“The rushed decision following a Four Corners story combined with a premeditated campaign by animal rights activists was found to have been unlawful, with the Federal Court taking the extraordinary step of labelling the action ‘capricious, irrational and unreasonable’.”

The NFF’s stance has been supported by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA.

PGA president Tony Seabrook said stopping the trade was “something the government should never have done” and had caused a “staggering amount of short-term and long-term harm” to the industry, and compensation was “well overdue”.

“People have got old, died and suicided in the time that it has taken to reach this point and the only ones who have benefitted have been the lawyers,” Mr Seabrook said.

“It has been going on far too long and needs to be wound up — if they don’t settle soon the cost will only go up.”

Mr Seabrook said the issue was a “clear-cut case” of the Government doing something that it shouldn’t have done and it should learn from that mistake and not continue with its proposed ban on the live sheep trade.

York farmer and PGA president Tony Seabrook in the yards with some of the cross-bred lambs which would normally be bound for live export. Pictured at Tony's property near York. 24 JUNE 2018 Picture: Danella Bevis The West Australian
Camera IconYork farmer and PGA president Tony Seabrook. Danella Bevis Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

The Commonwealth Government has until January 19, 2024, to accept the latest offer or face a potentially much more significant pay-out allowing the Federal Court to rule on the quantum of damages.

Last year the Commonwealth Government offered to settle the case for $215m interest and costs included, which was clearly insubstantial given the findings of the court in terms of breach by the Commonwealth.

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