Hayes pulls no punches in demanding more than a billion dollars in compensation to beef industry

It is being called one of the most courageous speeches ever given in the Australian beef industry and the hope is it goes down as one of the most influential.

With Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his agriculture minister Murray Watt sitting only a few feet in front of her at a Beef Australia gala dinner, respected northern agribusiness executive Tracey Hayes pulled no punches in telling them they owed more than a billion dollars in compensation to beef people in the room and across Northern Australia.

She was talking about the fact that four years after a monumental Federal Court ruling that the 2011 Labor Government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia was illegal, the hundreds of producers and others with businesses serving the live cattle export industry are still waiting for payment.

Dragging out the legal action was an act of contempt not courage; it was malice not leadership, she told the PM and 700-strong audience at the Rabobank Beef Industry Awards dinner in Rockhampton.

It was a dishonourable act and it must end, she said.

No other industry had ever been put through the ringer like this.

It was a fact that claimants to the case had died before seeing justice.

It should be over.

Ms Hayes was the keynote speaker at the event in recognition of the fact she was the previous Queensland Country Life Beef Achiever at the last Beef Australia in 2021. She won the award for the role she played in co-ordinating the class action against the Commonwealth, which began when she was the chief executive officer of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association but continued long after that role finished.

At the time she received her award, the industry was celebrating the legal win, one considered a milestone moment in both the legal world and in agriculture.

This week, more than a thousand days after her win, 13 years from the ban and ten years from the day the legal action was filed, the Commonwealth has still not paid up.

The government lawyers made what industry deemed an offensive offer of $200 million to settle and industry, in good faith, made a counter-offer of $500m plus interest and costs. The true cost is closer to $1.2 billion, live-ex industry leaders say.

But the Albanese Government said no, and at a cost of $150,000 per day to tax payers, the can has now been kicked down the road until at least April next year.

“You would be forgiven for thinking this is a deliberate act to wear us down in the hope that we give up, that we concede, that we capitulate,” Ms Hayes said.

“I think not. With the unwavering support of the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund we will stay the course and see this through to the right and just conclusion.

“We are a proud and legitimate industry with a right to go about our lawful business without having it pulled out from under our feet, with no regard for the devastating consequences.”

Ms Hayes said the ban was a catastrophic failure of leadership by the minister of the day and “by anyone’s standard this is a fight worth having”.

Ms Hayes implored all at Beef 2024 to raise their voice on the subject if given the opportunity.

Demand an answer and speak your mind, she said.

The story of being an Australian is not one of hiding, of shying away, of avoiding responsibility, of using government as a piggy bank to fund lawyers who inflict pain on the vulnerable.

It is not one of respecting those in power, solely for the reason that they believe themselves to be so.

It is not one of allowing those same people to continue to run away from responsibility.

“The story of being an Australian is believing in a fair go. It is believing in mateship and thumbing your nose at those who demand respect without earning it and those who do little to inspire it in the first place,” she said.

Tracey Hayes’ words, and the way she delivered them with dignity and passion, won widespread applause at the dinner and across the Beef Australia grounds afterward.

They must have been hard for the prime minister to hear. The widespread hope in the cattle industry is that he can not ignore them.