By Tiffany Lasschuit, University of Technology Sydney

This case note was originally published in the Animal Law Case Book, ed Sophie Riley (1st ed, 2015) and has been republished with minor edits by Voiceless with permission from the editor.   

Citation: Rural Export and Trading (WA) Pty Ltd v Hahnheuser (2008) FCAFC 156  
 
Court – Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia  
Judges – French, Rares and Besanko JJ 
Date of Judgment – 22 August 2008 

FACTS OF THE CASE

Hahnheuser, the respondent, a member of Animal Liberation SA Inc, entered a sheep feedlot in Portland, Victoria. He placed ham and water into two feed troughs for 1,694 sheep who were being held in preparation for live export on the MV Al Shuwaikh several days later. Hahnheuser publicised what he had done and caused a video to be recorded of the contamination. He explained the contamination was intended to preclude the animals from satisfying Halal requirements for consumption by Muslims in Middle Eastern destinations.

The case was heard on appeal from a single judge of the Federal Court of Australia. The primary judge found that the activity of Hahnheuser was “substantially related to environmental protection” within the meaning of s 45DD(3)(a) of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) (‘The Act’). The Court held that Hahnheuser’s actions substantially hindered Samex Australian Meat Co Pty (‘Samex’), the second applicant, from engaging in trade or commerce by exporting sheep in an adjacent paddock within the meaning of s 45DB(1). However, the judge held that these actions were intended to protect the sheep from suffering and this was within the meaning of the “environmental protection” exemption in s 45DD(3)(a).

THE ISSUES

  • Whether the protection of sheep from suffering during shipment to the Middle East was within the meaning of “environmental protection” as used in s 45DD(3)(a) of The Act.
  • Whether the onus of proving that the dominant purpose for Hahnheuser’s conduct was substantially related to environmental protection lay with Hahnheuser or Samex.

THE DECISION

The appeal was allowed, with the Court finding that the first respondent (Ralph Hahnheuser) had engaged in conduct for the purpose of preventing and substantially hindering Samex from engaging in trade or commerce. This was a contravention of s 45DB(1) of the Act.

Hahnheuser was ordered to pay Samex’s costs and damages exceeding $72,000, with this award based on the cost of purchasing the sheep and having them processed into meat products in Australia.

Characterisation of the conduct as environmental protection

The Court rejected the argument that the case fell within the “environmental protection” exemption under s 45DD(3)(a) of The Act.

In considering the word “environment”, the Court referred to Queensland v Murphy (1990) 95 ALR 493, where it was held that “what constitutes the relevant environment must be ascertained by reference to the person, object or group surrounded or affected”. The Court concluded that Hahnheuser did not have the dominant purpose of protecting the sheep in the environment of the paddock. Instead, he was attempting to protect them from the live export shipping process.

The Court agreed with the judge at first instance that the expression “environmental protection” in s 45DD(3)(a) of The Act should be given a wide construction. However, the Court indicated that this must be balanced with the Parliament’s aim to sustain overseas trade, reflected in s 45DB(1). The ordinary and natural meaning of “environmental protection” as used in s 45DD(3), could not realistically include preventing the movement of animals to a new location.

The onus of proving the dominant purpose

The Court held that it was preferable to approach the construction of s 45DD(3) as requiring Hahnheuser, as respondent, to discharge the burden of proving that his actions fell within the exemption provided by s 45DD(3). However, the Court did not deem it necessary to conclusively answer this since the appeal succeeded on the basis of Hahnheuser’s failure to establish the “environmental protection” exemption under s 45DD(3).

COMMENTARY

The case established that the protection of sheep from live export does not amount to environmental protection for the purposes of s 45DD(3)(a) of The Act. Therefore, protection of this kind is not a defence to a claim of preventing or hindering trade under s 45DB(1). Notably, it was held that there was no direct or primary intention to cause economic loss. In response to the case, the Victorian Parliament amended the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), adding s 249, which makes it an offence to recklessly to cause economic loss.

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