29 Jun 2018

Kiwifruit growers could get huge payout from government

6:36 am on 29 June 2018

Kiwifruit growers are expected to get good news this morning from a court verdict over the spread of the vine killing disease PSA.

A kiwifruit vine infected with Psa.

A kiwifruit vine infected with PSA. Photo: Plant & Food Research Limited

But the government risks getting lumbered with a multi-million dollar liability.

Kiwifruit growers went to the High Court last September alleging negligence by a fore-runner of the Ministry for Primary Industries in allowing PSA to get into New Zealand in 2010.

Lawyers on behalf of 212 growers argued the disease came in via a shipment of pollen products from the Chinese province of Shaanxi, which the then Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry approved.

Lawyers for the Crown argued it was unknown where PSA came from, and the Ministry had several extra defences, including statutory immunity.

Justice Mallon has spent months working on this case, and her judgment is understood to be long and complex.

It has been very tightly held, but RNZ understands her finding has swung in the direction of the kiwifruit growers, against the Crown.

However, no details are available and any verdict could easily be appealed.

When the case went to court, the sum of $400 million was mentioned as the total amount of damages being sought by the kiwifruit growers.

But the growers say a final figure could be far higher as new cases of PSA come to light.

The actual cost of the disease was estimated last September to be $900m.

However, it is not known what figure, if any, will be found in Justice Mallon's report.

The plaintiffs have called a news conference in Te Puke just before 12pm today.

Three of the four leading complainants will be there, along with other kiwifruit growers.

The Ministry for Primary Industries earlier said any liability on the Crown for losses as a result of a biosecurity incursion was covered by a statutory compensation scheme, with the government making more than $25m available to compensate growers.

However the Kiwifruit claim group said this was not enough.