Emily and Dougal Brett had thousands of cattle waiting in yards on Waterloo Station near Katherine when they were confronted with the news that Australia’s export cattle trade to Indonesia had suddenly been suspended on June 7, 2011.
Until that point it was shaping as a good month. The cattle they were about to truck to Darwin would be their first turnoff of the year and would provide much-needed cash flow to pay the new season’s bills.
Like many other properties in the NT, Waterloo lacks all weather access roads, meaning the Bretts are restricted to only marketing cattle during the dry season. Totally reliant upon the live export trade, they face a long wait to earn income until the wet season passes each year.
“We really needed that sale to go through, we hadn’t sold cattle since October 2010,” Emily recalled.
The Bretts had just had a load of fuel delivered to the station, along with vaccines and drenches and NLIS tags.
Suddenly, with Joe Ludwig’s announcement, their world turned on its head.
Their cattle could not be sold, desperately needed income would not be earned.
“All of a sudden we were left with the realisation that we wouldn’t be able to pay those big accounts on time,” Mrs Brett said.
Three years later, the business has been unable to recover what was lost in 2011.
“With the way the market has been over the past three years, there is no way that we have been able to make the money that we need to recover these losses.
“We’re price takers, we can’t just set a price to say this is what we need to try and get some of that money back.
“We ended up having to take out another loan with our bank to keep ourselves going.
“So we’re still having to find the money each month to pay the interest on that loan.”
Emily and Dougal’s Brett Cattle Company is the lead applicant in the live export class action filed by Minter Ellison in Canberra against the Commonwealth yesterday afternoon.
Emily told Beef Central that her family was determined not to let the events of June 2011 simply be swept under the carpet and allowed to be forgotten with time.
It was disappointing that successive Australian Governments and the Australian Government Solicitor had refused to engage in discussions with the industry to find a remedy over the past three years, she said, which had left affected businesses with little choice but to launch a public class action.
“We’re leading the claim to recover the money we lost, but it is also for all of the other families, and all of the small and large businesses that suffered losses and have endured financial hardship like we have because of the Government’s decision to suspend all live exports to Indonesia,” Mrs Brett said.
“I think it is very important that we have success with this class action.
“Hopefully it will go a long way towards preventing this from happening again to any industry, but particularly to the live export industry, and I think that it is very important to get some confidence back into the industry and to get some confidence back into northern Australia.”
In the tumultuous weeks following the live export ban Mrs Brett and her young children William, Lachlan and Sophie travelled to Canberra with the NTCA to share their story. Their heartfelt story and powerful images of the young family in Parliament House helped to ensure mainstream media reporting began to focus on the plight of the northern families and communities affected by the ban, a critical side of the story that had been largely ignored in the debate until that point.
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