WA potato growers have begrudgingly accepted the state government’s offer to return their share of legal trust funds after Premier Mark McGowan stopped a civil lawsuit from proceeding against spud king Tony Galati.
In August, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development wrote to 74 potato growers offering them a share of Potato Marketing Corporation funds which were recovered from a legal trust fund.
Growers were offered $484,316 from the legal trust fund along with $200,000 in court costs paid by Galati Nominees when he was fined for contempt of court after growing more potatoes than he was allowed during regulation of the industry.
Potato Growers Association of WA executive officer Simon Moltoni said growers were originally disappointed because they felt the government could have handled dropping the civil lawsuit better.
Mr Moltoni said $2 million of growers funds went to expenses for the lawsuit and the state government never consulted them about dropping the legal action.
He said while they were relieved the government would pay the remaining money back to them, they were disappointed there was a lack of communication and explanation when they dropped the case.
”There is still $1.3 million in costs which is unresolved and we have been quietened by a deed of distribution which is really a deed of settlement,” he said.
“This is our own money we have been blackmailed by our own funds and growers are disappointed we haven’t been able to resolve the issue.”
Mr Moltoni said because of circumstances in the industry, they had to accept the outcome and move forward with the support of the minister to better the industry through market, research and development and exports.
In a statement released by the Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, she said while deregulation legislation made it clear this money legally belonged to the state, they believed growers had a moral claim to the remaining funds.
Ms MacTiernan said the association’s decision to accept the offer would bring a close to the long saga of the Potato Marketing Corporation and ensure growers received their fair share of remaining funds.
“We acknowledge our potato growers have been doing it tough since the discovery of the tomato potato psylid – finalising this issue will allow the industry to focus on rebuilding and finding new markets for our produce,” she said.
Busselton potato grower Keith Taylor said he was appalled that the minister would blame the industry’s problems on psylid disease.
“I am absolutely disgusted the minister would use a bug as an excuse,” he said.
Over the last 20 years, Mr Taylor said rogue potato growers had cost the industry $50 million and lots of issues could have been avoided if the industry had remained regulated.
“Deregulation did not have to happen, it cost the government a huge amount of money and was a sudden decision made by the former Premier Colin Barnett,” he said.
Mr Taylor said since Premier Mark McGowan stopped the lawsuit the industry had been on a downhill slide and they were clearly unhappy with the outcome.
“We had no choice but to accept the government’s offer,” he said.
“We just had to take the money and run.”