NZ: Kiwifruit Claim co-founder withdraws from case
Aongatete Coolstores managing director Allan Dawson has pulled out of a divisive negligence claim against the New Zealand government over the entry of kiwifruit disease Psa, but the plaintiffs still plan to go ahead with the litigation.
Dawson was not available for comment, but Kiwifruit Claim chairman John Cameron told www.freshfruitportal.com the representative left as his business was under threat because of people who "perhaps" didn't support his stance on the claim.
Yesterday, (Oct. 7 NZDT) a series of packhouses claiming to represent 75% of the industry in kiwifruit volume wrote a letter to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key protesting against the claim, urging growers to think long-term about how it could affect their businesses.
With businesses including EastPack, Apata Group, the Maori Growers Forum and many others, the signees said a "one-off speculative litigation case" was not the right approach to securing their collective future.
"We now have a clear pathway forward with the more Psa resistant G3 variety, and the industry is on a strong growth path. We believe our focus should be on the future, not the past," they said.
EastPak chief executive Tony Hawken told www.freshfruitportal.com the withdrawal of Dawson, along with fresh pledges against the claim from postharvest operators Punchbowl and Orangewood, took the total in postharvest share of his group's camp to 90%.
"Personally I think that a lot of the analysis and the science that’s been done is possibly correct, but the problem we have is we can’t actually prove the actual way of how the bacteria got into the country," Hawken said.
"We don’t have sufficient proof to be able to nail it.
"The government did a lot of work to assist the industry, be it in trade negotiations, be it with trying to get seasonal employees from the Pacific Islands to come and harvest the fruit...there are close working relations to make our job as easy as possible and to help where we think there are hindrances."
The letter addressed to Key also mentioned concerns about potential financial burdens for claim participants, however Cameron explained the deal with litigation funder LPF Group was that growers would not bear liability costs in the event the suit failed, emphasizing this would be backed up by High Court funding.
He said the fine details of legal issues and funding, which would include fees based on hectarage for participants, would be explained in detail at a grower meeting at 4pm NZDT today (Oct. 8 NZDT) at Te Puke Sports, Atuaroa Ave, Te Puke.
"LPF have agreed to all the terms and conditions that are being raised by the plaintiffs, and we’ve done everything we can to maintain that transparency," Cameron said.
"It’s about the law and it’s about accountability, and that I'm afraid has been lost in the dialogue in the press and by the postharvest operators. I can’t understand why."
Cameron also highlighted that contrary to public statements made by others, LPF was New Zealand-owned with its headquarters in Wellington.
He also added the claim was not anti-government and not anti-single desk export.
"That is absolutely not on the table, and I’m very disturbed that people are still maintaining that stance," he said.
"It’s about finding out whether one, there’s a breach of the law, two, whether they’re accountable, and three, are there damages and are they liable for it? And we want some recompense for the harm the industry’s gone through."
He said that if the claim were outside the law, the plaintiffs were happy to go to court to verify that.
"I don’t think anyone should stop us from doing that, based on the accountability of the law," he said.
"Likewise, Zespri shouldn’t be worried about SFO – which is another government agency – looking into their business to see if their business is being run according to the law."