Bank victims gather in Canberra

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Bank victim gathering, Parliament House, Canberra, 14 August 2018 (Image supplied)

Last month, on Tuesday 14 August, bank victims converged on Parliament House from all over the country. The stories they told were gobsmacking.

It was probably the largest collection of bank victims ever assembled in Australia. All expended funds that they could not afford because they deemed the meeting significant. Others were absent because no money could be found or because of illness.

The victims vary dramatically in background and circumstances, highlighting that the banks are no respecters of class or personality. Simply everybody is a potential target.

The event was organised by Leon Ashby, staffer for one Senator Fraser Anning, of which more anon. The meeting was held in the Main Committee Room at the southern end of the iconic building. The sizeable room was almost full.

The ambition was to invite Members of Parliament and Senators and the media to hear directly from victims of their experience. A pre-prepared Q&A slot was developed to have maximum effect within the limited time available.

The process went as planned — 35 victims were given a mere couple of minutes each and they were all heard in the space of one-and-a-half hours

Unfortunately, the amplification was amateurish. Key points for each victim were flashed onto a smallish screen, but some detail was lost in the moment.

What did come over was the great weight of appalling practices by bank lenders. This is a sector steeped in corruption, with evident complete impunity. A technician recording the event, the “man in the street”, observed to a victim that he was gobsmacked by what he had heard.

A wide range of victims heard

Ashby organised the selection of victims from a cross-section of sectors and experience.

From my estimate, this is the rundown of the rogue financiers that the 35 selected victims faced (one bank unnamed under threat, some victims rolled by more than one financier): NAB 10; CBA/Bankwest 5 + CBA 4 equals 9; ANZ (including Landmark) 5; Westpac (including RAMS/RHG) 2; Bendigo (includes Great Southern and Rural Bank) 2; Suncorp 2; Bank of Queensland 1; Rabobank 1; Latrobe Financial 2; Impact Capital 1; Commonwealth Super 1.

Commonwealth Super covers federal public servants, defence personnel and veterans. Victim Brad Campbell highlighted that Comm Super is subject to no scrutiny in spite of strong official claims to the contrary. Behind the secrecy, ongoing rorts deprive thousands of public servants and veterans their just superannuation returns.

The two known criminal high achievers – NAB & CBA – are, not unsurprisingly, at the top of the sample. Rabobank, a self-proclaimed cleanskin, is anything but.

Significant is the presence of the second tier — also corrupt and untrustworthy. Copycat behaviour has been assisted by Big 4 personnel taking employment in the second tier (for example, NAB personnel moving to Bendigo in Queensland).

Bendigo Adelaide Bank is a worry because of its aggrandisement — acquiring assets of the crippled Great Southern Limited and proceeding to clean out the hapless investors; acquiring 100% of Elders Rural Bank (which had previously acquired Primac) in 2010 and proceeding to screw farm borrowers; and recently acquiring Rural Finance Corporation (privatised by the previous Victorian Coalition Government without tender) where no doubt the usual anti-farmer commercial loan principles will be implanted behind doors.

Bendigo’s current CEO Marnie Baker thinks that Rural Bank’s “misconduct” is yesterday’s news, it’s all been cleared up and Bendigo’s trust factor bodes a promising future by contrast with the errant Big Four. Joke.

Backdrop to the Canberra meeting

The backdrop to the Parliament house meeting is pertinent. The primary motivation came from the rampant foreclosures in the farming sector — in Queensland in particular.

Queensland is a different country. The State has 22.5% of the Australian land mass (the populous States of New South Wales and Victoria combined are six tenths the size of Queensland). Queensland becomes a laboratory experiment in gross bastardry.

The proximate origins of the event are in the Senate Lending to Primary Production Customers Inquiry, which ran through 2017.

Urban dwellers mostly, we have generally remained ignorant of this inquiry, helped along by the city-oriented media groups ignoring it. Marginalisation was assisted by the fact that the inquiry was initially sponsored by Pauline Hanson One Nation members – first Rodney Culleton (a Senator for seven months until declared ineligible) and subsequently Malcolm Roberts (known to urban dwellers for his rather unscholarly approach to climate change skepticism). 

Roberts chaired the inquiry until his forced retirement (possession of dual citizenship) in November 2017, whereupon the Inquiry was chaired briefly by Pauline Hanson herself.

Parliamentary Inquiry Committees are multi-party and this one has to be judged on its merits. The crucial public hearings at which the majority of select victims were heard occurred in Charters Towers (13 July), Perth (19 July) and Roma (2 August). Thus the Canberra meeting came a year after the high point of the inquiry hearings.

One can understand the bitterness and fury of farming victims one year down the track because nothing has happened in the interim. Some of those prominent in Canberra were witnesses at the inquiry hearings and/or made submissions.

Leon Ashby made his own submission (#88). Ashby himself had farming experience and was in Roberts’ office during the inquiry. Ashby aided some farmers in making their submissions and engaged in mediations between some farmers and their bank lenders.

Leon Ashby (Image via DeSmogBlog)

A small sample of victims

Representative of farmers Ashby would have helped is Lindsay Dingle. By his own admission, Dingle and his wife left school early and have relied upon others for advice in financial and administrative matters. They feel, rightly, that “in so many ways we feel we are being persecuted because of it”.

The couple, however, knew how to farm, Lindsay coming from a fourth-generation grazier family. That capacity didn’t save them from the predations of the Bendigo Bank. Bendigo’s brutal default and foreclosure of the Dingles is summarised in Lindsay’s supplementary submission, located under 'Tabled Documents'. The Dingles are defaulted, foreclosed and evicted — all without notice. Personal property is trashed, prized breeding cattle are stolen and so on.

The theft of the Dingles’ assets, not unrepresentative of bank foreclosures and property sales markedly under value, is cloaked with the aura of legitimacy under current structures. It remains theft, high order corruption and sadism for good measure. The Bankruptcy Trustee furthered the brutal treatment of the Dingle family.

At the time of the purchase of Rural Bank, Bendigo claimed benefits all round:

[Bendigo] has a strong and proud history of working with our partners to provide the best customer-focussed banking experience in Australia. We see an increase in our commitment to Rural Bank as sending a strong positive message to the Group’s existing and potential customers.'

The reality is otherwise.

Bob Bourne with family had a long and profitable relationship with Bankwest, developing hotels and other projects in the Gosford region. After 2014, a newly installed team at Bankwest proceeded to dismantle their business. The business was massacred in conjunction with Ferrier Hodgson. Bourne claims that his family has since been devastated by two suicides and one attempted suicide.

Carolyn Thomson has been witness to corruption by the ANZ and indifference by all relevant authorities. Working in the construction business, they sought new accounts for a trust their accountant had purportedly set up. Under anti-money-laundering legislation, the bank was required to validate the existence of the trust. But no trust deed existed because the accountant had failed to set up the trust as instructed. The accountant provided to the ANZ a copy of a fraudulent simulacra of a trust deed, on which the bank subsequently relied.

The accountant’s action was criminal, and ANZ’s refusal to report the breach enjoined it in criminality. Thomson reported the affair to AUSTRAC, without effect. She sought action from the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police who directed Thomson to seek assistance from the other. She was advised, erroneously, that this was a civil matter. The Financial Ombudsman Service also demonstrated no concern. Thomson belatedly discovered that the ANZ had given FOS fabricated paperwork to hide its culpability.

Michael Sanderson owned a rural property in the Hervey Bay area ripe for development (see his Primary Production Inquiry submission #112). He refinanced the mortgage from Suncorp to Bank of Queensland in 2008. A valuation during the Suncorp period valued the property at $375,000. A valuation by another valuer during the BoQ era valued it at $435,000, partially representing property improvements. In 2013, BoQ declined to roll over the loan for a second five year period, in spite of an earlier promise. A 2014 valuation by a third valuer, when BoQ was preparing foreclosure, was at $400,000 — dodgy, albeit within the ball park.

But BoQ arranged two valuations from a fourth valuer, Propell National, one as basis for the loan and one as the ultimate basis for foreclosure. These figures were $900,000 and $200,000 — transparently fraudulent and representative of the corruption that pervades the valuer sector. Ditto the receiver sector, with Sanderson having to stomach dodgy receivers in the process (Korda Mentha, BDO).

Sanderson’s property was sold under value for $210,000. After a long hassle, he obtained key loan documents from the bank to discover that they were forgeries. His local branch manager claimed that he was powerless before the cutthroat culture in head office. Note that the CEO of BoQ is one Jon Sutton, the CBA staffer installed as head of Bankwest in 2009, while the large scale fraudulent foreclosures were implemented.

Graham Blight and Sam Sciacca were partners in Aussea P/L, operating a prawn hatchery and prawn farm at locations south of Cairns, with a loan from agribusiness specialist Landmark in late 2005 on a low loan-to-valuation ratio. Sciacca tells the story at the Charters Towers hearing of the Primary Production Inquiry. They were simultaneously preparing barramundi, taking three years for the fish to reach spawning weights.

The Cole Inquiry into the Iraqi involvement of AWB, Landmark’s parent, was happening at precisely the same time, after which ultimately AWB was dismantled. Landmark soon secretly moved Aussea’s loan to Permanent Custodians Ltd, informing the company only five years after the event. In March 2006, Cyclone Larry caused $1.5 million in damage. PCL remains a mysterious outfit, but it is not a bank and, ultimately, the ANZ appears as the company’s creditor.

Aussea is denied assistance with expensive post-cyclone reconstruction. Rather, the company is defaulted and charged penalty rates of 24%. Aussea is given no chance for re-financing, even though its LVR remains trivial. With the hatchery finally fully operational, PPB Advisory is sent in as receivers in December 2008, installing two know-nothings from Sydney as managers who proceed to destroy the business. $1.4 million worth of prawns are strategically poisoned, delicate machinery is trashed by neglect, the neglect fosters vermin that chew electrical wiring causing a fire that destroys everything, including records.

Landmark dictated, against advice, an early harvest of prawns, but the resulting $700,000 of sales disappears from the financial accounts. PPB allows the barramundi breeding stock to die. The destroyed farm and hatchery is ultimately sold for 23% of its functioning value. ANZ then demanded, under threat of bankruptcy, payment of $1.8 million for the alleged residual debt, though any debt was attributable to ANZ and PPB themselves. Lacking compliance, ANZ forced a brutal deed of arrangement (a familiar practice) on company directors that absolved it and PPB of responsibility in the business’ destruction.

Terry Byers (at the gathering) and his wife assertively purchased some commercial properties (in particular a hotel/motel) and a residence at Woodgate Beach, south of Bundaberg. All purchases were readily financed by Westpac. A divorce ensued in 2008. There followed a flood in 2011 and a devastating flood in January 2013, causing extensive damage. Westpac defaulted Byers in mid-2013 before the insurance assessor and repairers could deal with the damage.

Byers planned a sale of properties in late 2013, but Westpac froze the small amount he had left in his accounts for advertising expenses to the agent. Before the planned auction, Westpac installed Insolvency Turnaround Solutions [sic] as receivers who, according to Byers’ evidence, demonstrated ongoing incompetence and indifference in the hotel management, and indifference to pursuing property sales after an initial failed effort. Westpac and ITS eventually sold the hotel/motel property for $1.4 million in August 2015, although a valuation in April 2009 put its value at $3.5 million. Byers is now jobless and penniless, with Westpac claiming he owes the bank over $400,000.

Aftermath of the meeting and background to the politics

After the 14th August meeting of bank victims, Senator Anning had the Senate accept his recommendation that the Banking Royal Commission be extended in time and in coverage (a previous motion to that effect had been rejected).

Later in the day, Anning made his maiden speech. Of the almost 5,000 words of the speech, essentially nativist, the media honed in on Anning’s inflammatory disdain for non-discriminatory migration and for official tolerance of migration of Muslims in particular. Muslims, he said, can’t assimilate, bludge on the state and are disproportionately given to terrorism.

The migration issue has already been well covered by the pundits.

Suffice to say that Islamic extremism and terrorism is almost wholly a product of select Western powers’ imperial projects in conjunction with odious Middle-Eastern allies — the lust for oil, the long Cold War against Russia/Soviet Union/Russia, and the obsession to destroy unfavoured secular Arab regimes. One won’t read about this trajectory from Murdoch or Fairfax. Try Mark Curtis’ 2010 Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam instead. To combat Islamic jihadism root out its sources.

With all the brouhaha, Anning’s reference to the banks was overlooked.

My most immediate concern is saving agriculture in this country. Only this morning, we heard the appalling personal stories of 40 farmers and others whose family businesses were stolen and who were ruined by the criminal behavior of the major banks. … it has quickly become clear that the terms of reference are far too narrow and the ability of the commission to hear evidence far too limited. That is the reason that I moved earlier today to increase the time and resources of the royal commission, extend the terms of reference and consider dispute resolution processes. Those lenders and particular liquidators, receivers and administrators who have behaved contrary to any acceptable moral standard must be exposed and made to pay for their crimes. I'm happy to report that that motion got up. …

The banks' criminal treatment of so many farmers, which has led to the loss of family farms — owned for generations — and waves of rural suicides, must be ended once and for all.

Senator Anning, by his own criteria, might have made more of the banks’ perfidy. The post-deregulation banks can’t assimilate (aberrant cultures — internally self-indulgent and externally abusive; take-their-ball-and-go-home branch closures). They are large-scale bludgers on the public teat (government guarantees against failure; major beneficiaries and abusers of the court system, the office of the sheriff in evictions and of the official bankruptcy trustee; tax deduction scams on manufactured bad debts; the forcing of their destitute casualties onto public welfare).

The dominant terrorists in contemporary Queensland (and across Australia) are the banks. Which authorities are tallying the mental health crises and the suicides, the extraordinary diminution of economy-wide productivity, due to bank theft?

The brutal fact is that One Nation and its confrères are the only political players currently prepared to devote someone fulltime to the ravenous monster that is banking criminality. The three main political parties and the Greens have not been prepared to take the battle seriously. With respect to the plight of family farmers, the National Party’s indifference is a travesty.

Victims have trudged the halls of Parliament House seeking a functional commitment, to no avail. Representative is the meeting during the 14th August confab with Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. To those victims present with longstanding grievances (against NAB), O’Dwyer could only say — get a lawyer and go to court. O’Dwyer is merely one of numerous functionaries who have benefited from NAB largesse over the years, but her own Party would readily support her stance.

The Primary Production Inquiry and its late 2017 report have disappeared off the radar. Apparently, Prime Minister Turnbull gave One Nation the inquiry to stop them clamouring for a Royal Commission. With the Royal Commission belatedly established, the inquiry loses for the Government its political rationale.

There has been no Government response to the inquiry report’s recommendations, as is mandatory. Yet the report’s recommendations are generally a model of moderation. They demand the authorities enforce the extant regulatory structure and that the banks adhere to their own Code of Banking Practice. The impertinence of it all!

The impasse continues. Commissioner Hayne’s interim and final reports are keenly awaited. But the Commission’s scope was vast for a limited hearing period, its terms strategically waffly (“misconduct”), and the structured criminality in banking and its facilitators ignored.

The victims have been crucified. They want justice, redemption (in this life, not in the next), just compensation in hard cash. At the moment, they have little faith that Hayne and what follows will deliver it to them.

Dr Evan Jones is a retired political economist.

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