Crown wants ministry negligence clarified in kiwifruit appeal

Seeka mulls cross appeal.
Kiwifruit grower John Cameron led growers in their claim against the government.

The government has confirmed it will appeal a decision holding it liable for the destruction caused by kiwifruit vine disease Psa – and has warned the Ministry for Primary Industries may have to slow down biosecurity decisions because of the ruling. 

In June High Court judge Justice Jillian Mallon said growers who banded together for a court claim under the name Strathboss Kiwifruit should be compensated.

The growers had alleged the then Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) was negligent, causing $885 million worth of losses to kiwifruit growers around the country who had to pull out vines infected by the disease.

The Crown says it wants to clarify the scope for government regulators to be sued in negligence, and that the ruling of Justice Mallon could significantly impact the ministry’s biosecurity operations.

“The Ministry for Primary Industries takes its biosecurity responsibilities seriously and, while the decision is being appealed, it must still be applied in the interim. The impact of this for importers and others will be delays in decision-making.”

The ministry said it has confidence in its current biosecurity system but no system in the world could prevent every pest incursion from happening.

It would not comment beyond the statement it released.

Earlier this month Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the costs of the case to the government could be up to $800m.

While the original claim was filed at $356m, Mr Peters told media it was likely to cost the government $500m-800m. The NZ First leader made the remarks while explaining why the government couldn’t give any more money to nurses, who went on strike earlier this month.

The decision was in favour of growers but did not extend government responsibility to packhouses such as NZX-listed Seeka, which is still considering whether or not it will cross-appeal. While under the High Court ruling Seeka will see some compensation as a grower, it also lost $92.5m from its packhouse operations.

The litigation is being bankrolled by LPF Group, which is understood to have poured millions of dollars into the case. Its funding arrangement means it will take home between 10-25% of any successful award or settlement.