Two legal claims seeking damages for businesses affected by the June 2011 Gillard Government ban on live exports to Indonesia are yet to progress beyond negotiation stages, departmental officials told a senate estimates hearing this week.
Beef Central understands that both claims are still being progressed in negotiations, but could still be headed for the public court system if resolutions are not achieved privately.
The existence of two legal claims seeking compensation for parties affected by the ban first came to public light 10 months ago when 2012 Federal Budget papers were released with references to potential liabilities as a result of the June 2011 export suspension.
“The Australian Government may become liable for compensation following the decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to suspend the export of livestock to Indonesia for a period of one month in 2011,” the budget papers noted.
The papers said the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was working with the Department of Finance and Deregulation, the Australian Government Solicitor and the Attorney General's Department “to progress the claims”.
The claims are believed to involve some of the biggest players in the live export industry and are seeking compensation from the Federal Government in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars.
In a senate estimates committee hearing in Canberra on Tuesday, Liberal Senator for South Australia Sean Edwards asked DAFF officials if the legal liability had been resolved.
DAFF spokesman Tom Aldred said no claims had yet been filed in the courts.
“The Commonwealth has received a claim in the sense that we have been approached by legal firms acting on behalf of others, but no claim has been filed in the courts,” Mr Aldred said.
“At this stage, that is where it remains.
DAFF deputy secretary Mark Tucker also confirmed “there have been no formal legal proceedings instituted against the Commonwealth”.
People understood to be close to both claims declined to comment when approached by Beef Central this week, saying only that negotiations were ongoing.
Foreign aid versus domestic support
Meanwhile Coalition senators have accused the Federal Government of putting Indonesian farmers before Australian farmers at this week's senate estimates committee.
Liberal National Senator for Queensland Ian McDonald asked why the Federal Government had provided $20 million in funding for Indonesian farmers through the IndoBeef project – which Government officials confirmed has yet to be paid out – while cattle businesses affected by the June 2011 live export ban received a total of $12.7 million in assistance payments, funding which was now closed and no longer accessible.
“Clearly, my point is: Indonesian farmers following a live export ban get $20 million; Australian farmers get $12 million.”.
In response federal agriculture minister Senator Joe Ludwig said Senator McDonald’s statement was based on an incorrect premise.
“There is no direct correlation between the two. One is not from this department. The $20 million is from and administered by ACER (Australian Council for Educational Research)… it is about using ODA (Official Development Assistance) money to assist in overseas development," Minister Ludwig said.
“Everybody, including the Liberal Party, supports that, unless you have had a change of heart about supporting overseas development aid money."