Friday, June 21, 2024

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HomeIssue 24Cattle company has win in live export ban case

Cattle company has win in live export ban case


Federal Court Judge Rares has found against Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig who imposed a blanket ban on exporting cattle following “the public outcry” over a Four Corners report in May 2011 showing “graphic video footage of inhumane slaughter of Australian cattle exported to Indonesia”.

Justice Rares ordered that the plaintiff, the Brett Cattle Company in the Northern Territory, “is entitled to substantial damages and that the Minister and the Commonwealth must pay its costs of the proceeding”.

Justice Rares said – in part – in his findings released this morning: “I have found that [Minister Ludwig’s] Ban Order was invalid.

“That was because it prohibited all exports without any provision allowing him to make exceptions so as to allow exporters to carry on their lawful business where they already did, or readily could, have a closed loop supply chain in Indonesia with animal welfare standards at least equivalent to those in the OIE Code.

“Such a total prohibition was capricious and unreasonable and made the Ban Order invalid.

“The Minister knew that [his order] would prohibit any exports to Indonesia without any exception in an industry that in 2010 had exported over 500,000 live cattle worth about $400m.

“He had made no attempt to explore agreeing an appropriate solution with the Indonesian Government and that an order prohibiting all exports there would cause that Government concern.

“There was a real risk that, if he made the order in the form he adopted, it might be invalid.

“Yet, with that knowledge the Minister plunged ahead regardless. He made the Ban Order shutting his eyes to the risk that it might be invalid and to the damage that it was calculated to cause persons in the position of Brett Cattle.

“I am comfortably satisfied, based on the whole of the evidence, that the Minister was recklessly indifferent as to first, the availability of his power to make the Ban Order in its absolutely prohibitory terms without providing any power of exception and, secondly, as to the injury which the order, when effectual, was calculated to produce.

“Accordingly, the Minister committed misfeasance in public office when he made the Ban Order on 7 June 2011,” Justice Rares found.

UPDATE 4.20pm

Part of a statement from former Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association Chief Executive Tracey Hayes:

The result is a monumental win for lead applicants: the Brett Cattle Company of Waterloo, the adjoining parties and the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund, the support of which made the case possible.

The decision comes exactly nine years to the day from the issuing of the first export control order by the then Gillard Government and following 18 months of deliberation by Justice Rares.

The case looked at the appropriateness of the Government’s decision making. The matter was a not a contemplation of the merits of the live export industry.

Today justice has been finally served. It puts all Governments on notice and sets a pathway that will serve to ensure a higher standard of Government decision making into the future.

Most importantly it brings closure to a very challenging chapter for Emily, Colin, Alison and Hamish Brett of the Brett Cattle Company and the many, many other northern Australian farmers and businesses whose lives and livelihoods were thrown into chaos as a result of the shutdown.

The shutdown came at the very beginning of the exporting season, when there were cattle in yards, on farms, on trucks, in feedlots and on ships destined for South East Asia.

The decision impacted transport companies, vets, livestock agents and associated careers, contractors and local businesses – effectively bringing their businesses to a standstill.

In reference to the prospect of the Government appealing the decision, Ms Hayes said this must be the end of this matter.

The many families, businesses and communities that have been hurt need closure. In these tough economic times, it would be irresponsible for the Government to direct yet more taxpayer’s money to appealing this decision. Enough is enough.

Australia is the only country to regulate animal welfare after leaving Australia. Our industry is dedicated to constant and continual improvement and holding those who do the wrong thing, to account.


  1. That six-week suspension of trade to Indonesia in 2011 resulted in ESCAS being put in place and better welfare for cattle (both Australian and local) in Indonesia.
    But despite cattle exports increasing from 718,000 in 2011 to 1.3 million last year (and pretty consistently being over 1.2 million since 2014), cattle producers who have seen the benefits of that increase in trade believe they deserve $600m in taxpayer dollars (taxpayers who largely oppose the trade).
    Whilst the suspension was poorly-timed and arguably ill-advised, it’s outrageous to suggest that that suspension alone was responsible for all of the northern cattle producers’ woes.
    Prior to the suspension by the Gillard government, Indonesia cut live cattle import quotas from Australia, from 750,000 in 2009 to 520,000 in 2010 (before the suspension).
    It further reduced quotas from 520,000 to 420,000 from 2010 to 2011 (still prior to suspension). That’s a 44% reduction.
    They also imposed a 350kg weight restriction PRIOR TO the suspension which meant that producers who thought they would be sending their 360kg to 500kg steers to Indonesia, were suddenly stuck with them.
    On top of the difficulties Indonesia was causing which was all in pursuit self sufficiency in cattle production (hence no longer needing to rely on Australia) cattle producers were also struggling with high Aussie dollar, unprecedented drought, and bushfires; but sure, a six week suspension in response to the horrific practices exposed in Indonesian slaughterhouses is to blame.
    Despite the improvements made, we are still seeing welfare problems for Australian cattle in Indonesia and Vietnam (May 2020: “International Livestock Export (ILE) and South East Asian Livestock Services (SEALS) both breached Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) requirements in separate incidents involving Northern Territory cattle and buffalo, an ESCAS report released last week found”).
    Not forgetting, of course, that all cattle sent to the Middle East and Israel and some cattle sent to Indonesia, will have their throats cut whilst fully conscious.
    It’s time to relegate this unconscionable trade in cruelty and suffering, to the annals of history where it belongs.

  2. Perhaps I’m reading more into this decision than is warranted but it occurs to me there is possibly a principle of law here which may have much wider application.
    I’m thinking in terms of government policies and decisions that have an influence or impact on climate change without due regard to scientific advice.
    Are there wider implications from this decision?
    While this case may rest with the decision of the Federal Court if the Commonwealth Government opts not to appeal it, I can foresee a similar case being pursued in the High Court of Australia to resolve what degree of responsibility the Commonwealth (and, for that matter, the NT Government, which is a creature of Federal law) has in regard to abiding by professional, fully researched scientific advice.


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