Farmers win in landmark live export case
THE Federal Court has ruled the Gillard Government's 2011 live export ban to Indonesia was invalid.
The landmark decision, handed down this morning, was a victory for hundreds of cattle exporters entangled in the protracted legal battle for the past six years.
In delivering his ruling, Justice Steven Rares found the ban was "capricious and unreasonable" and that former agriculture minister Joe Ludwig had acted "recklessly indifferent" to his power to impose a blanket ban without considering exceptions or the injury it may cause.
"He made the ban order shutting his eyes to the risk it might be invalid," Justice Rares said.
His finding comes almost nine years to the day that Mr Ludwig signed off on the ban, following reports by ABC's Four Corners of animal welfare breaches in Indonesian abattoirs.
The move crippled the $1.4 billion trade, coming as it did at the start of the export period. The ban - originally intended for six months - was reversed a month later but many cattle exporters had already felt irreparable damage.
Brett Cattle Company, the lead plaintiff in the case, argued Mr Ludwig had abused his ministerial power.
Justice Rares found Mr Ludwig had committed misfeasance in public office - the first time such a case has been proved against a federal minister.
Justice Rares said a regulatory order such as a ban should be a "proportionate response" and not unnecessarily prohibit people carrying out their business.
He said the former minister could have provided exceptions for abattoirs that proved they met animal welfare standards. Such provisions would have meant about 412,000 head of cattle could have been exported that year, Justice Rares concluded.
Farmers were seeking $600 million in compensation from the Commonwealth.
Justice Rares said Brett Cattle Company was entitled to "substantial damages", and that Mr Ludwig and the Commonwealth would have to pay court costs.
The parties will return to court at a later date to finalise damages.
Northern Territory Cattleman's Association former chief executive Tracey Hayes said industry had stood up for "good government, justice fairness and a fair go - principles no government should ever abandon for populist politics".
"This legal case was about a reckless government decision and its devastating impact … each government and their decision-making process is on notice," Ms Hayes said.
"The truth is the shutdown wasn't required … had calm heads prevailed and established government decision-making been followed, both the livelihoods of farmers and many others down the supply chain, and the welfare of our animals, could have been protected."
Ms Hayes urged against an appeal, arguing the Brett family and other farmers involved had had "enough pain already".
She also acknowledged the support of the NTCA and National Farmers' Federation, which funded the class action through its Australian Farmers Fighting Fund.