Kiwifruit growers denied compensation for PSA disease

Kiwifruit growers who've been denied compensation for PSA disease say it raises concerns about whether the Government will be held accountable for any other biosecurity risks. 

A Court of Appeal judgement released on Thursday found that the Government was negligent in allowing the PSA disease to be imported into New Zealand but that it has immunity on liability for millions of dollars in losses.  

Kiwifruit claim chairman John Cameron still battles PSA in his crops, in a kiwifruit industry that has seen many of his peers drop out of business because of its devastating impact.

"PSA is still here today and it's still relevant… it's not going to go away and the losses are going to keep accumulating until the case is resolved," said Cameron.

The losses are estimated at more than half a billion dollars - and it now looks like growers will not be compensated. 

The Court of Appeal has ruled that MPI was negligent in the disease being imported here in a shipment from China - but that it's not liable for losses. Rather a particular individual employee would have to be identified for specific liability. 

The ruling effectively means that no one can sue the Crown for negligence directly.

It was a point of law the Law Commission warned about five years ago when it recommended changes, saying there would be significant difficulties when it's alleged the Crown or a Government department as a whole has breached its obligations. 

It's a finding now made by two courts in the kiwifruit PSA case. 

"Not only am I a kiwifruit grower but I'm an avocado and dairy and drystock so I have a wide portfolio and that does worry me if we have something that comes into any of those other industries are we going to end up with the same result."

Neither MPI nor Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor would comment on the decision.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would not be drawn on whether she felt it morally right that a Government department cannot be held liable for losses. 

"Asking me a moral question when an appeal may still be coming. I need to let that run its course," said Adern. 

A course growers say they will now look to take to the Supreme Court.