The headline on the front page of The Australian of July 24, 2018, ‘NAB promises to stop fleecing struggling farmers’.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘fleecing’ as; ‘to take someones money dishonestly by charging too much or by cheating’. The Legal dictionary defines ‘restitution’ as; n. 1) returning to the proper owner property or the monetary value of loss. Sometimes restitution is made part of a judgment in negligence and/or contracts cases.
The NAB has admitted that it has fleeced (stolen from) some of its farmer customers and now, having realised the error of its ways, promises it won’t do it again. Isn’t that great? Will the other banks now admit to stealing? They should, because they all behaved in the same callous and reprehensible manner if the evidence presented to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is anything to go by. Only a few of the many, many farmers who have been ‘fleeced’ will get the chance to testify, how many nobody knows, but the commissioner in reply to a question from Bob Katter MP has indicated that they won’t be forgotten. It may well be that Bob Katter has secured an extension of time for the Royal Commission to hear more from farmers. There is never any question where Bob Katter’s heart is, it’s with the people on the land. It’s a pity there weren’t a dozen politicians from rural electorates in court to give the commissioner a reminder, not that it seems he needs one, of the fleecing that has gone on in the bush.
In the last issue of the Global Farmer I discussed the need for change based on a strategic plan for the behemoth called Australian agriculture. It is not possible to look at the whole until the parts have been examined.
To start with the wheat industry is logical and relevant considering this is the time of year to review last year and make plans for and give a commitment to the next season and beyond.
The headline says it all, based on current trends, the wheat industry in Australia will be gone in twenty three years. If you are having difficulty in trying to remember what was going on in Australian agriculture twenty three years ago, it was five years after the wool price crash and we were all being told to get rid of our world beating merino sheep. That is how close we are to the demise of the Australian wheat industry. It won’t happen like the wool crash, for those who refuse to recognise the signs it will be a slow, painful and imposed exit.
Two reports from the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) on the competition Australia will almost certainly face from Ukraine and Russia in the wheat markets of the future should be compulsory reading for all wheat farmers in Australia. They provide a sobering analysis of the wheat market and will force the sensible to seriously contemplate their future.
We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.
Dame Iris Murdoch 1919 – 1999.
Stranger than fiction.
The post harvest stories, some of them as close to fiction as one can get without the author claiming to be a novelist, have recently appeared in both the national and the agricultural media. Minister Joyce is on the front foot; that is when it isn’t in his mouth, determined to persuade the Australian electorate, through a compliant media, that all is well in Australian agriculture and that the emerging Right in politics in Australia (Hanson) and around the world (Trump and Brexit), has nothing to offer to those who live outside the ever increasing majesty and grandeur of the State capital cities of Australia.
I have used the words ‘majesty and grandeur’ quite deliberately. Around Australia billion of dollars has been spent on State capital cities, much of that money is for the enjoyment and the pleasure of those who live in those cities. As we shall see, as billions has been spent on shoring up the city vote with new sports stadiums and the like, the infrastructure vital to agriculture has been allowed to deteriorate and in some cases decay to the extent that we are no longer world competitive — we can no longer, at times, but ever increasingly, compete for markets around the world.
The Nationals heartland is in rural Australia, it’s the country folk who get them into parliament. In WA they did a deal with the Liberal Party, which put the Liberals into government and some National members into key positions in the WA Government. Again, and have we seen it too often, a minority determining government policy? The Nationals are now worried that Hanson, the Hunters Shooters and Fishers Party and maybe others will replace them in Parliaments around the country and in so doing, replace them in holding the balance of power.
Minister Joyce wants everyone in the country to believe that record high prices for livestock and an ever-increasing demand for wool are the beginning, as one journalist put it, of a ‘golden era’ for the farmers of Australia. Coupled with what some are calling a record harvest, what could possibly go wrong for Minister Joyce and the wheat farmers of Australia? Well this for starters. Continue reading “Is the Australian wheat industry finished?”
So who in this land of the free protects the weak and poor, like the Cronin family, from the financially strong like Ferrier Hodgson and the National Australia Bank? The answer is nobody, at least nobody that we have been able to find—we are still looking.
Man walks up to jewellers shop window, chucks a brick through it, grabs a couple of trays of diamond rings and then an hour or two later finds himself wearing steel bracelets and in the back of a Paddy Wagon.
His mate, who the robber had taken into his confidence, had hidden around the corner, took a video of the robbery, sold it to the police and collected the reward.
No excuses for the NRL player recently videoed behaving very badly, but the cockroach, the traitor who took and sold the pictures got something like $40k from the media scum is different. That cockroach deserves a punishment far worse than that metered out to the player.
The other one dobbed in his mate and if he has any vestige of a conscience will have to live with his treachery all of his life.
What motivated the two video enthusiasts? Greed. Greed caused the Global Financial Crisis and few if any ‘on Wall Street’ who caused that crisis were punished, they took their government funded retirement packages and disappeared as wealthy men.
Money Never Sleeps – Neither do the Greedy.
Perversely the 2010 film ‘Wall Street-Money Never Sleeps’ the sequel to the famous 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ starring Michael Douglas became almost cult films. Both stories concentrated on greed and both, apparently, caused a rush of graduate applicants both in America and the UK wanting to work in the banking industry.
One of the few advantages of being over a three quarters of a century young is (thankfully) I can still look back with a deal of clarity and compare yesteryear with today. Don’t jump to conclusions—this is not about the good old days. I have only reached this age because there are cures for what killed many of my ancestors. ‘Jack the Magic Dancer’ is not the man he was and I continue, helped by some very clever people, to beat him. I cannot help but compare our wonderful health system with our antiquated legal system. It is as if we are frightened to change, little realising that an antiquated legal system increases the cost of the health service. Think about it.
My age and my experience were on my mind a lot while was writing the last two episodes of the Global Farmer. I have contemplated if the world has changed or whether I have? Whenever I have started to write this series, the word GREED has materialised on the screen—so I thought this month I should pay it some attention.
I should also declare I have only been to one mortgagee’s sale in my life. I only went to fly the flag. I was a farm manager so the chequebook wasn’t all mine but there was nothing to stop me, for a mate, pushing the bidding if needed.
I saw the mortgagor’s wife in tears while she was serving tea and sandwiches with the other ladies from the CWA. I didn’t stay for the sale. The mortgagor had borrowed to pay a family member out who was a ‘sleeper’ in the family farm. Then we had two dry years and he had a fire over half the farm. I learned later they had a good sale, the neighbours rallied round so he didn’t need me after all. Someone bought his farm ute and gave it back to him.
Then I heard that a neighbour had bought the farm from the receivers and leased it back to the original owner. That was back in the 70s. Maybe many of us were still pulling chains and rakes around clearing land, just like those before us had done going back generations? Maybe there were too many ‘battlers’ there to kick a ‘mate’ when he was down? There were the exceptions of course, there were the ‘greedy’ ones hunting a bargain, but the neighbours outbid them.
The Cronin family deserve answers from Ferrier Hodgson and the National Australia Bank, answers which at the time of writing they are both either refusing to answer all questions or they are giving what can only be called puerile reasons for delaying answering our questions. The law protects the mortgagor. The law says that all the financial activities of the receiver manager and the manager in possession for the mortgagee, must be transparent and made available to the mortgagor. The National Australia Bank and their appointee Ferrier Hodgson appear to disagree with the law. So persistence is our only recourse.
The stand out feature following the publication of ‘National Bank Bastardry’ in the last issue of the ‘Global Farmer’ was the number of people, including those on Facebook, who encouraged us to keep on going with the story and wished the Cronin family all the best for Christmas and especially for a better New Year. Many identified with the Cronin’s problems, some related ‘tough’ experiences with their bank and as a result, did not want to go public with either their name or their story, except to say they had one. That is not a healthy relationship between borrower and lender – between the farmers and their banks. For every Charlie Phillott in Queensland and Cronin family in Western Australia, it appears there are many others with similar stories, which will never be told.
Smoke Screens and Threats.
Harold Cronin wrote to Ferrier Hodgson (FH), appointed by the National Australia Bank (NAB) as the receiver managers and manager for the mortgagee in possession of what was formerly Chambejo Farms, the Cronin family farming business. He asked for a copy of all (two or three) the valuations on Chambejo Farms that FH had commissioned from a firm of valuers, Opteon, and for which Chambejo Farms had paid. Harold wrote based on this advice:
The Corporations Act obliges receivers to keep financial records that “correctly record and explain” transactions they enter into while they are controlling a company. Directors and shareholders of the company have the right to inspect those records. These provisions appear in section 421 of the Act.
What follows is the body of the letter he got back from FH. It appears to be the very antithesis of section 421 0f the Corporations Act. If you don’t want to read the whole letter here is a short review, you should read the letter, because it’s a blinder:
FH wrote back to Harold and stated that they couldn’t release the information he requested because they, FH, had signed an agreement with Opteon invoking the Privacy Act 1988. Their contention was and is that the results of the valuations, paid for by Chambejo Farms as mortgagor are secret and unavailable to Chambejo Farms unless they signed an agreement, which absolved Opteon and FH from any action or proceedings based on the valuations. Even if they signed, it only meant that FH and Opteon would further consider the request; in effect they could still say no. It’s true – FH and Opteon wanted Harold and his family and their Trustee in Bankruptcy to give them an escape from possible prosecution. Why would they do that? It’s obvious isn’t it?
An unnecessary foreclosure by the National Bank of Australia in 2013 has left a couple who pioneered the Ravensthorpe area destitute and reliant on the old age pension. Their only possessions are their furniture, a far-from-new Jeep station wagon and their clothes. They live by ‘grace and favour’ on a friends farm. As you will see, because of a legal precedent, there is every reason to believe that National Australia Bank may have acted in contravention of the law. The question we have to ask as laymen is; is there now a case for damages against the National Australia Bank and if there is, from where do those who believe they have been damaged get the money to pursue one of the most powerful corporations in Australia, who are well known to have bottomless legal pockets?
After seizing their farms in May 2013 and putting them in the hands of Ferrier Hodgson (FH) as receiver and managers and agents for the mortgagee in possession, the National Bank of Australia (NAB), on November 11 2015, informed Harold, Barbara and Christopher Cronin, formally of Chambejo Farms Pty Ltd, that the NAB and FH, over 28 months, spent an amazing $6.0 million dollars, in what can only be called a failed attempt to recover a $6.0 million debt from Chambejo Farms.
Final returns were submitted to ASIC by FH in September 2015. If Harold Cronin had not asked the NAB and FH for the details of the costs and returns regarding the sale of the assets and properties that had comprised Chambejo Farms, recent experience has shown there is no reason to believe that the information would have been volunteered by either the NAB or FH.
On the contrary, FH and the NAB have been obstructive and repeatedly refused to provide information to the Cronins. The Cronins now know why FH did not wish to publicise what some might call their incompetence. We will show that FH were and are obliged by law, to provide detailed information to the Cronins as mortgagors.
As you will see later it is open to question, by their actions, whether both organisations abrogated their obligations under Section 420A(1) of the Corporations Act and their obligations under common law to act in good faith, particularly when it comes the family home.
It is open to speculation if this is what the NAB board and senior management really think of farmers after a couple of bad seasons? It’s certainly not their public position.
Does the NAB management not understand that farming is all about risk? The Cronins weren’t on their own after the bad seasons of 2011 and 2012. The records show many farmers in their region went deeply into debt in those two years.
“It’s ironic,” says Harold, “That 2013/14 was a very good season in the Ravensthorpe area and had we been allowed to put a crop in, it would have solved most of our financial problems.”