A group of Nationals has won a fight to prevent the government appealing against a court judgment finding Labor’s 2011 suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia was unlawful.
Attorney-General Christian Porter had favoured an appeal because of fears the decision could set a precedent limiting ministerial power.
But after a strong campaign spearheaded by Nationals senators, cabinet decided against appealing.
Sources said the push against an appeal had general support in the Nationals, including the backing of Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Scott Morrison was key to the outcome, wanting to ensure that Nationals leader Michael McCormack, whose leadership has been fragile, did not face a revolt over the issue.
In a statement on Wednesday, Porter said that as Morrison had said, live cattle exporters had been treated “egregiously” by the Gillard government. “The Coalition government will not jeopardise the outcome they have won in this case,” he said.
Former resources minister Matt Canavan, an instigator of the Nationals’ push, said in response to the decision, “You bloody beauty. It’s a great outcome”.
In his statement, Porter made clear his deep concern about the legal judgement, saying the government disagreed with some of the principles applied by the court.
“The court’s reasoning in this matter represents a departure from existing legal principles governing both the validity of delegated legislation and the tort of misfeasance in public office.
"The government reserves its right to press its view of the relevant legal principles if an appropriate case arises in the future,” he said.
But “while the decision raises some important issues of legal principle, they are far outweighed by the very real pain and hurt that the live export ban inflicted on our cattle industry”.
A letter signed by the party’s Senate leader, Bridget McKenzie, and other Nationals senators, had asked Porter to take into account not just the law but also “the hurt and pain a previous commonwealth government’s decision inflicted on the hard-working men and women of our live cattle industry.”
McCormack and Littlepround said in a joint statement on Wednesday the decision “is an outcome the Nationals in government fought hard to secure”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra