A dairy farmer from West Australia (WA) has taken the WA Farmers’ Federation (WAFF) to court in what has proven to be a landmark case that the authorities fear could open the floodgates to compensation claims deriving from the deregulation of the dairy industry in July last year.

In a submission to the WA Supreme Court last week, 62-year-old Pino Gangemi accused the farm lobby group of mis-representing his interests in pushing for deregulation, and causing him the loss of his A$210,000 (US$105,000) a year livelihood overnight.

Coolup-based Gangemi, who is representing himself, lost all of his daily 2647 litre quota income immediately when deregulation was introduced. He maintains that WAFF is responsible for his current financial difficulties because it lobbied former Primary Industry Minister Monty House for deregulation.

“The Minister said he would never deregulate unless requested to do so by industry. This is where my point lies, that is, Mr House deregulated the industry at the request of WAFF,” explains Gangemi.

He added: “I am not a member of WAFF so the way I see it WAFF had no right to represent me, knowing I was against it.”

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Colin Nicholl, WAFF general section president, is quoted in the West Australian as denying that the body played any instrumental part in deregulation: “As far as we’re concerned the industry was deregulated by State Parliament, all we did was facilitate a poll of all registered dairy farmers, including non WAFF members, [through the Australian Electoral Commission] and pass the information on to the State Government.

“We have been advised we have nothing to worry about and this should not impact upon us unduly,” he added.

Gangemi is the first farmer in Australia to sue directly for his loss of property rights and income since deregulation, and the legal challenge has prompted much industry concern that his test case could “open the floodgates” to a barrage of similar claims from angry farmers.

“I’m not a trouble-maker but I have been very affected by this change and if, at the end of the day the court rules my way, then someone has to pay me,” he insisted: “If it had been my own mistake then I could write it off as bad luck but this was a case of someone else taking away my rights and with it my livelihood.”

The court is due to rule on whether WAFF has a case to answer on 14 December.