Fight for justice has gone on 25 years
John Dickson is still fighting for justice, a quarter of a century after the Commerce Commission authorised the merger of rural services firms Dalgety and Wrightson under flawed conditions it did not and could not enforce.
With politicians on both sides of the House in his camp and a series of reports from select committees and the Ombudsman highlighting errors in procedures and communications - and one recommending an ex gratia payment be considered - the gruff stock and station agent is once again taking his fight for compensation to Wellington.
"I have been fighting this fight with the New Zealand Government for far too long to give up now. I am not backing down or going anywhere until justice is served - that I can promise you," Silverdale, Auckland-based Dickson wrote to Commerce Minister Craig Foss in July after being refused compensation by former minister Simon Power.
For Dickson, the facts of the case are plain and simple: the Government's decision to allow the 1986 merger of Wrightsons and Dalgety was illegal because it was made under the wrong law.
That error allowed Wrightson to exclude Dickson Lambeth & Associates, his stock and station agency, from stockyards, leading to its liquidation.
The error in law by the Commerce Commission meant a condition of the merger that would have prevented such anti-competitive conduct could not be enforced. The outline and extent of those errors are supported by an Ombudsman's report, though that report does not uphold a claim that there is a "direct" causal connection between the administrative errors and the failure of his firm.
Veteran MP and speaker of the House Lockwood Smith, who has been involved in the case since 1996, said the case troubled him deeply, not because of the error, but because public servants covered their tracks when they should have acknowleged the conditions of the merger could not be enforced.
"As an old-style constituency MP I care deeply about how ordinary people are dealt with by the State," he said, describing Dickson's case as the worst he had seen in 28 years in Parliament.
"I remain distressed by the whole matter," he said.
Dickson was claiming $5.9 million for the destruction of his business, but that has now grown with interest to $19m, excluding legal costs of close to $1m.
With a favourable report from the Ombudsman outlining a series of errors by bureaucrats and a third select committee report, this one unanimous, recommending an ex gratia payment be considered, Dickson could have been forgiven for thinking his battle was all but won in 2010.
How wrong he was.
At short notice on July 28, 2010, and after considering a report by Peter McKenzie QC, then Commerce Minister Simon Power tabled the Government's response to Dickson's third petition.
"Mr Dickson's petition has a long and complex history, and the Government has given the issue careful consideration by seeking independent legal advice," Power said. "In light of this advice, the Government will not be making an ex gratia payment to Mr Dickson."
Labour Commerce spokesperson and former minister Lianne Dalziel said at the time she was appalled at the decision. She still is.
"The select committee agreed he needed redress because he was placed in a position where he could do nothing about it," she said. "This guy was in a ‘no-win' situation from the outset and somebody has to take responsibility."
Dalziel said as minister she felt she did not receive the quality of briefing on the issue she could have had. It was only the Ombudsman that eventually asked the really central question, whether the merger approval was legal, and found it was not.
That left Dickson's business exposed and without the protection of the conditions he believed he could rely on.
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