WA Premier Mark McGowan has ordered a civil lawsuit against spud king Tony Galati be dropped in a move which has outraged local potato growers.
In State Parliament last week, Mr McGowan said it was “wrong, absurd and stupid” to prosecute people for growing potatoes, and the law under which the action had been taken had since been changed.
Mr McGowan said he had conversations with many people about the potato industry before the election, including Mr Galati and several potato growers who wanted Mr Galati prosecuted.
Mr McGowan said he indicated to Mr Galati he would look into the matter if he was elected premier.
Busselton potato grower Keith Taylor said he was disgusted with Mr McGowan’s decision and that the matter should have been left to the courts to decide.
Mr Taylor said Mr McGowan had ignored the industry’s wishes.
“It was a kick in the guts,” he said.
”To disregard law-abiding people ... beggars belief. Mark McGowan is just destructive and he has single-handedly hurt the industry, which has been through one thing after another.
“The premier should be providing leadership not stepping in to stop legal disputes.”
Mr Taylor said the State Government should not have interfered.
“I am absolutely disgusted. It is awful and shows a lack of understanding. Has he been hiding under a rock? The potato industry is under enormous pressure,” Mr Taylor said.
Mr McGowan told the Mail the decision to discontinue the case was made because the prosecution arose out of a regulated and seriously flawed and archaic system which had now been abolished.
He said it was outrageous that a person could be prosecuted for growing potatoes.
“There is endless commentary on the public record which highlights the stupidity of the old Potato Marketing Corporation,” he said.
“The prosecution, which was one of the last acts of the archaic Potato Marketing Authority, should not have been initiated in the first place.
“At a time of widespread unemployment, we did not think it was wise to potentially bankrupt a company that employs hundreds of people.”
Mr McGowan said the decision to discontinue the damages proceedings against Mr Galati and Galati Nominees had been made in April, provided the defendants agreed to some specific terms and conditions.
“A letter proposing the terms of a settlement of the damages proceedings was sent to Mr Galati's solicitor on April 19,” he said.
“Nothing further can be said about the terms of the settlement, as these are still the subject of negotiations between the parties.”
The civil case was funded by WA potato growers who were seeking compensation for $5.8 million in losses they claimed to have incurred while Mr Galati allegedly breached regulations by planting over and above the limit.
Prior to the industry becoming deregulated last year, regulations set by the Potato Marketing Corporation controlled the amount of potatoes farmers could grow.
The now-defunct PMC, which was funded by potato growers, set aside a legal fund to pursue the lawsuit against Mr Galati.
In its action, the PMC alleged Mr Galati exceeded the limit of his potato production, causing an oversupply in the market and a fall in value.
Warren-Blackwood MP Terry Redman said growers lost millions of dollars.
“The issue now is that potato growers are out of pocket and Mark McGowan has belittled the issue by saying it was silly,” he said.
Potato Growers Association of WA executive officer Simon Moltoni said a politician should not be able to stop a civil case from proceeding.
Spud Shed Fresh Food Market was contacted but declined to comment prior to publication.