Live cattle export ruling a political win that may come back to bite

RIGHT CALL: DPM Michael McCormack acknowledged the decision no to appeal may have future implications, but remained firm that it was the right call.
RIGHT CALL: DPM Michael McCormack acknowledged the decision no to appeal may have future implications, but remained firm that it was the right call.

THE decision not to appeal a Federal Court ruling in the live cattle export case is being hailed as a win for the Nationals, however it's one that future ministers may come to regret.

The government took almost a month to formally declare it would not challenge the landmark Federal Court ruling that the ban on live cattle exports implemented in 2011 was invalid.

An appeal was being considered due to the precedent the ruling sets to challenge other ministerial decisions, after finding the-then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig intentionally or recklessly acted unlawfully and imposed loss on an individual or group, with provable "bad faith".

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack was guarded when asked how much pressure his party had to apply on its Liberal colleagues.

"At the end of the day, we were all on one page," Mr McCormack said.

"I felt, as did my National Party and my Coalition colleagues, that it was time to put the matter to rest."

Australian National University political science emeritus professor John Warhurst said it was important not to assume the Liberals wanted to appeal the decision, and that the Nationals "may have been pushing against an open door".

The delayed decision not to appeal may have been due the government's careful consideration of the future implications of the court's ruling, rather than an internal Coalition struggle.

"This sets a precedent, and opens the door for similar appeals against ministerial decisions," Professor Wurhurst said.

"Parties on both sides would be very wary of anything that takes away from ministerial powers and allows them to be overruled.

"I suspect they were taking their time to think about if that decision might come into play in other circumstances."

Mr McCormack acknowledged the concern, however said the future implications were unknown.

"We'll wait and see what happens," he said.

"Hopefully commonsense prevails. I'm please the right decision was taken - it was not an easy path or an easy decision, but it was the right one."

Nationals Senator Susan McDonald said the party was "completely united" in the pressure it applied on the government, "both in the joint party room, private and public meetings".

"You have to remember parliamentarians live and work all over Australia, and not all are as close to the issue as we are," Senator McDonald said.

"Our job was to remind everyone just how devastating this decision was to beef in northern Australia. It spread and infected the whole agriculture industry.

"I was contacted by lots of people who knew I understood the issue, to remind me how important it was to them, their family and their neighbors that it wasn't an option for us to blink on this."

New England MP Barnaby Joyce said it would have been "a sign of bad faith" to appeal the decision, and the government would have faced the "white hot fury" of regional Australia if it had.

"It would have been completely obnoxious to the view we formally held," Mr Joyce said.

"We influenced the government to stay the course."