The Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) coordinated the efforts of barristers and lawyers from Herbert Geer & Rundle and Maddocks to help defeat an action against animal rights activists sued for hindering trade under the secondary boycott provisions of the Trade Practices Act.
In Rural Export & Trading (WA) Pty Ltd v Hahnheuser  FCA 1535, Acting Chief Justice Peter Gray found Ralph Hahnheuser’s placement of shredded ham in feed troughs to prevent the sheep being exported to the Middle East fell within the environmental protest exclusion in section 45DB of the Trade Practices Act.
Hahnheuser was sued along with Animal Liberation SA Inc by Rural Export & Trading (WA) and Samex Australian Meat Co Pty Ltd.
Animal Liberation was represented by Jim Delaney QC, Matthew Barrett of counsel and Henrik Lassen at Herbert Geer & Rundle. Just before the trial, the applicants and respondent agreed the action against Animal Liberation should be dismissed.
Justine Lau at Maddocks, Garry Bigmore QC, Matt Connock SC and Edward Moon acted for Ralph Hanheuser.
Harwood Andrews advised counsel for the applicants.
“It was an interesting test case. The secondary boycott provisions were introduced as part of Peter Reith’s industrial relations reforms and were directed towards preventing coordinated industrial action,” Matthew Barrett said.
“The applicants in this case, however, were trying to use the provision to sue animal rights protestors for damages. The result seems more consistent with the initial purpose of the section.”
In his defence, Hahnheuser said the Trade Practices Act allows for boycotts if it is for the purpose of protecting the environment, and his conduct was aimed at environmental protection not industrial action.
He said the dominant purpose was to: “protect sheep from cruelty and suffering as a result of live transport by ship to, and arrival in, the Middle East and also to increase public awareness and education of the suffering and cruelty suffered by sheep during live transport by ship”.
Justice Gray agreed with his view, and said there were two additional obstacles to the applicant’s claims.
“[Rural Export] trade and commerce was not prevented or substantially hindered by anything that Mr Hahnheuser did and, in any event, the trade and commerce in which it engaged relevantly was not trade or commerce involving the movement of goods between Australia and places outside Australia.”
Tabith Lovett, manager at PILCH, said there was “a strong suspicion the proceedings were designed not to recover damages but to deter protest against live export trade”.