Move to sue MLA, LiveCorp scorned

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A possible move by cattle producers to sue Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and LiveCorp over last year's live export shutdown has been met with scorn from some sectors of the industry.

Lawyer Norman Hunt, of Hunt Partners, is heading up a group of about 15 producers from WA and the Northern Territory that he said wanted to see action taken against the industry-funded MLA and LiveCorp.

Mr Hunt said he was not convinced the Federal Government was entirely to blame for the ban and instead pointed the finger at MLA, which he said had failed in its duty.

"The fundamental point is ... MLA and LiveCorp are statutory funded bodies set up to look after the interests of the cattle industry, including the live export part of that industry," he said.

"The concern I and my clients have is MLA and LiveCorp commissioned a report into the slaughter practices of Australian cattle in Indonesia published in May 2010.

"That report depicted and set out each of those inhumane slaughter practices that we all saw.

"Here we have corporations that are specifically set up to look after the interests, among other things, of the live export sector. There has been a time bomb that they have to have been aware of ticking away for a year."

The action would seek to recoup losses, both from loss of income and a fall in property values, sustained from the suspension of trade to Indonesia.

"My clients also have to show that if they had been aware of that information they would have acted on it," Mr Hunt said.

"In other words, they would have ordered their affairs in a different way to preclude the loss if it occurred."

But the proposed action has met with opposition from some industry bodies and producers.

Cattle Council of Australia president Andrew Ogilvie said he was not convinced targeting the levy-funded MLA was appropriate.

"Over many years, industry funds have been directed towards improving animal welfare in live export markets," he said.

"It was always recognised that this is challenging work, with step-by-step, gradual improvement being the approach. In my view, legal action against industry bodies is not the answer."

Michael Percy, of Yalleen station, said punishing MLA and LiveCorp would only further hurt growers, who relied on help from those bodies to gain access to international markets.

He said blaming MLA for the debacle because it should have acted on animal welfare claims was an argument that only sounded good in hindsight.

"(MLA) was in the market with good intentions and was making progress," Mr Percy said.

"It probably should have been more across it but it was affecting change, although probably slower than what was desired.

"Obviously (paying out money) would be detrimental to MLA and what it could achieve.

"I wouldn't like to see this action be successful and have money dragged out of MLA."

The proposed action joins two others relating to the live trade suspension and aimed at the Federal Government.

One, being handled by law firm Minter Ellison, involves 21 producers and live exporters.

The other, involving three parties, is also suing the Federal Government and is being handled by law firm McCullough Robertson.

The possible action against MLA and LiveCorp will hinge on the outcomes of the other two.

"My clients are essentially waiting for the dust to settle to see if there are any compensation payments made by the Federal Government," Mr Hunt said.

"Obviously if they receive compensation from the Government it would depend on an assessment then as to whether any further action should be pursued against MLA and LiveCorp.

"We're sitting and waiting to see the outcome of the Federal Government's position - nothing has been quantified and no action has been lodged as yet."

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