Class action could be taken against Victorian and SA governments over COVID-19 border travel restrictions

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The Victorian and South Australian governments could face a legal challenge for compensation from hundreds of agribusinesses and farmers affected by border and travel restrictions.

It is understood the potential class action is the first of its type to be flagged in Australia regarding restricted commerce across state borders due to the pandemic.

A regional Victorian legal firm said potentially hundreds of agribusinesses and farmers straddling the Victorian-South Australia border could be part of a potential class action for compensation.

Warrnambool-based firm Maddens Lawyers has called for people to register their interest for a potential class action against the Victorian and South Australian governments.

Class action principal with Maddens Lawyers, Brendan Pendergast, said border closures and travel restrictions were having a significant impact on agribusinesses, farmers and businesses relying on cross-border trade.

“It’s an important and significant issue. And we would like to hear from people to register with us so that we can get a better profile picture of the full extent of the impact,” Mr Pendergast said.

“It could well be hundreds of people affected.”

SA and Vic governments face possible legal action

Mr Pendergast said compensation could potentially come from both the South Australian and Victorian governments.

“The respective governments are obviously in our purview,” he said.

He said the call-out for people to come forward with their stories would determine whether a class action for compensation could be taken.

Mr Pendergast said a cluster of businesses had already shown interest since his law firm earlier this week called for people to register their interest.

He said those people included farmers, who could not travel across borders to attend to properties, or contractors who needed to weave across state borders for work.

“If there’s a joining of forces and a coordinated approach, it takes the pressure and the stress off of each individual so we would encourage anyone impacted to register online with us and we will work to give them advice and develop a plan of attack,” Mr Pendergast said.

Freedom of trade an ‘important guarantee in constitution’

While it was “early days” into their investigations, he said the Australian Constitution underpinned trade across state borders.

“One of the very important guarantees in our federal constitution is the freedom of trade and enterprise across state borders, so that’s the platform upon which we will commence looking at this,” Mr Pendergast said.

“This is an area of litigation and legal practice that we’re actively involved in.”

Mr Pendergast said his firm had a track record in class action and constitutional matters.

“Although I have been to the High Court of Australia under Section 92 question involving imposition of road tax on transport operator that was many years ago, but it’s that same section of the Constitution which seems to be irrelevant and critical in considering what we’re what we’re looking at now,” he said.

Mr Pendergast said his firm would be the first potential class action regarding restricted commerce from border closures in Australia.

Bordertown agribusiness operator, Vaughn Colwill, dealer principal with Wickham Flower and Co, said border travel restrictions were impacting heavily on businesses that operated in cross-border communities.

“The 40km travel bubble into Victoria has made it difficult,” Mr Colwill said.

While his company was not planning to join any class action for compensation at this stage, he said the impact on machinery sales due to travel restrictions would not be fully known until some months.

He said some customers could choose to purchase equipment in other towns such as Horsham given the travel restrictions.

“It does also impact our customers’ ability to visit our stores to purchase equipment and parts,” Mr Colwill said.

He said one of the biggest problems facing the business was travel restrictions facing their technicians in Victoria.

By Sandra Morello, Becc Chave and Selina Green (Original ABC Article)