Australian Government Now Facing a Legal Virus

Now the Australian equine influenza outbreak has started to get really ugly: Lawyers have been called in at the behest of major breeders and owners to launch a massive class-action lawsuit against the government.

The Australian equine influenza outbreak has now started to get really ugly: Lawyers have been called to the table at the behest of major breeders and owners.

Their sole purpose is to launch a massive class-action lawsuit against the government as the culpable party in the outbreak that has run into billions of lost dollars and started ruining people's livelihoods.

At the moment no one is taking responsibility for how the EI bug was released into the general equine community.

Peter McGauran, the federal minister for agriculture, is working his office overtime to ward off the suit. "We know everyone is upset, but we have taken steps to find out how this happened and just who is at fault," he said.

McGauran has introduced new legislation into Parliament and hurried it through following the announcement on Sept. 12 in Sydney that the class-action suit was about to be launched in a serious and massive manner.

The New South Wales state government has adhered to its position that the problem is federal.  As such, NSW has not given one red cent to the ailing Thoroughbred community, which has enraged the state's Thoroughbred community.

But McGauran's new legislation will ensure the chief of the equine influenza investigation will have greater powers to investigate. McGuaran has introduced the bill to Parliament, asking specifically to allow retired High Court judge Ian Callinan royal commissioner standing and therefore greater powers of investigation. McGuaran said the investigation would be a comprehensive, independent one into the outbreak and spread of the virus.

"The serious effects of this outbreak are being felt across horse-related industries. We all know that," he said. "In addition to providing assistance to those people and businesses directly affected by the outbreak, the Australian government is committed to determine how it occurred."

Callinan is set to start the inquiry as soon as the necessary legislation has been passed. This has only temporarily appeased the embattled mob. Lawyers acting for the breeders, trainers and owners have said the federal government's $110 million (AUS$133.47 million) compensation package for those affected is inadequate.

"Many businesses, individuals and their families will suffer major financial loss before a cause for the outbreak is established, with many unable to recover at all," said Matthew Hourn, of the Sydney law firm Clinch Neville Long Letherbarrow. "This is a prime reason for establishing a class action."

The federal government compensation package covers trainers affected by the outbreak of EI, but breeders are unable to claim for lost income caused by the inability to service horses.

And the owners are gearing up, too, as thousands of horses in NSW and Queensland remain ineligible to race for purse money, while their owners must still pay training bills.