Ron Feierabend’s story
I am a farmer, and, by God’s good grace, I am a descendant of a family from Germany who for generations, have been solid reliable farmers. Our history stretches back to the 1500s and, in the latter years, we had come to Australia to continue our agricultural heritage on the vast farms of Queensland, Australia.
In 1959 my family settled in the little town of Gin Gin, Queensland and worked on Wingadee farm some forty miles from Bundaberg and five miles outside Gin Gin where I was born.
I would like to tell you a series of unfortunate events that would find me returning to the world of farming after some years trying with another industry and end up having to fight the longest and hardest battle of my life as a farmer.
In December 2011, I approached Suncorp Bank with an offer, for a $980,000 Term Loan Facility No.1, to purchase Wingadee with the proceeds of my compensation pay-out.
There was no confirmatory communication with me from the bank after submitting the application, but it was approved by the bank three days later. On 23 January 2012, I settled on Wingadee for $1,550,000, with Suncorp providing $980,000 towards the purchase. I provided the balance of the purchase price at $570,000, sourced from monies I had received from the workers compensation payout.
Following a major refinance of my accounts in June 2012 Suncorp decided to greatly increase the loan facility for us to run the farm.
On 24 March 2012, I received Suncorp Bank’s letter of offer, for its $25,000 Business Premium Account Overdraft Facility No. 2 to assist with working capital.
On 1 June 2012, Alan J Gees, of Opteon (Wide Bay), issued a market valuation report for Wingadee, dated 25 May 2012, for $2,100,000. The report was prepared for Peter Treasure of Suncorp for mortgage security purposes.
In June 2012, I received Suncorp’s letter of variation for Term Loan 1, increasing the facility limit from $980,000 to $1,130,000. Then in December, I received Suncorp’s letter of variation for Term Loan 1, increasing the limit from $1,130,000 to $1,149,380.
All seemed to be operating well and a bright future appeared to be on the cards. However, things took a turn for the worst when Cyclone Oswald struck the region in January 2013 affecting many of the farms and properties in and around Bundaberg and Gin Gin. Wingadee was subjected to a 1 in 200-year flood, which materially reduced sugarcane yields in the 2013 harvest season.
We took a tremendous hit with a lot of damage to crops and infrastructure virtually stopping our business dead in its tracks. It was obvious that in order for us to really get back on our feet we would need to borrow more money. So, in May 2013, I refinanced the loan and overdraught facility with Suncorp on a temporary basis.
In September 2013, I contacted Peter Treasure, because I required additional funding for the continued cost of operating the farm. It had to be completed initially by December 2013 to secure the 2014 cane crop. The bank required me to apply to the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority (“QRAA”). I completed the application in November for exceptional disaster assistance and a grant package of $333,611.
Initially QRAA declined my application, but it wasn’t until January 2014 that they formerly notified me of the rejection. I appealed to the Chief Executive Officer of QRAA to reconsider the application. With Suncorp manager’s help, we were able to draft up a new budget plan to submit to QRAA in support of my appeal.
As this process was underway, I believed that the Suncorp Bank loan and overdraught facilities of refinancing were proceeding as per the application. I heard nothing from the bank to the contrary and once again I received no documentation from them either.
As already mentioned, the Suncorp’s bank manager was working with me in preparing a new budget plan for QRAA, and so I had no reason to believe that there were any problems with it. The QRAA appeal was declined three times.
What I didn’t understand was that Suncorp had employed a Credit Specialist for advice with appeals and refinancing, yet during the appeals process the bank manager stated he had never had a successful loan through QRAA.
Suncorp Bank refinanced my loan package six months after I had requested the funds. As a result of the late financing, income for the next 12 months virtually lost.
During 2013 and 2014, Wingadee was subjected to a historic drought, which materially reduced sugarcane yields in the 2014 harvest season.
When I was signing of my loan contract in March 2014, the assistant bank manager, Pauline Nicholson was helping me. She told me she “altered” the documents. When I asked her for her help and told her I was looking to refinance with QRAA for a low interest drought loan, she literally spat in my face and angrily told me to do it by myself.
I was a little surprised by this but didn’t react to it immediately and left it until April 2014 when I felt compelled to find out exactly what “alterations” she had made. I asked her for a copy of the agreement and the budget figures, and she printed a copy for me.
To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement! The document she handed me was nothing like my budget figures. They had been significantly altered and were not the same as the ones I submitted to the bank. Maybe her hissy fit was because QRAA may also have examined the books and found the bank altered the documents, which is fraud. Or was it because the new Suncorp loan, if terminated, would affect success-based commissions to parties who took part in this event.
At that time, we were trying to get back on our feet and the costs were adding up for restocking, replanting and repairs to the farm’s infrastructure. Even then, I did not believe that Wingadee was in danger of repossession or that we wouldn’t recover, but it took a long time to get back into production and reduce the debts, and we did not recover.
On 16 April 2014, Wingadee Solar Farms Pty Ltd was incorporated with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (“ASIC”). I was the Sole Director, Sole Secretary and Sole Member from that date. It was setup to establish a solar farm on Wingadee and I applied for a 20MW network connection with Ergon Energy on 14 July 2014. The network connection never materialised, due to the dispute with Suncorp.
Six months later, I reluctantly contacted Pauline Nicholson seeking additional funding for my next years’ cropping program. The meetings continued until March 2015. During this period, Suncorp Bank had more budgets and cashflow projections, but still took an unreasonable amount of time processing my requests. With this delay, the peanut crop was planted late, resulting in a loss of about $30,000.
On 10 February 2015, Alan J Gees, of Opteon Property Group, issued a valuation report of Wingadee for the bank, dated 27 January 2015 of $2,310,000. It was prepared for James Noye, Suncorp, for mortgage security purposes. In March and then in June, I received the bank’s letters of variation. The first required me to market Wingadee for sale.
On 1 August 2015, I ceased paying Suncorp Bank’s debt repayments.
Then in October, I received Suncorp’s letter of default, requesting immediate payment of arrears of $24,866.20, in relation to Term Loan 1, Term Loan 2 and my overdraft facility. The bank advised that if the payment of arrears was not made by 29 October 2015, all my loans would become immediately repayable in full.
As a result of Suncorp’s misconduct and its failure to provide funding in a timely and reasonable manner during the 2014 and 2015, I could not meet my debt commitments or continue with my cropping program during the next three years. For example, my cane crop losses in 2016 were $290,000, with further losses therefrom.
After all this, I had to attend farm debt mediation with the bank in June 2016.
There were several stops and starts during mediation, but the bank adopted delaying tactics. It was becoming a bitter and very frustrating process. The mediations collapsed with no agreement.
I walked out of the mediation because my solicitor had cross-examined Suncorp Bank’s Assistant Manager Edwin Brak, and the mediator Lee Nevison had apparently formed a view that Edwin Brak and DLA Piper’s Danielle Keyes had misled him.
Many times, my solicitor pointed out that the fraudulent actions of the bank by falsifying agreements and budget figures was unlawful. The bank did not provide all the essential documents my lawyers requested for several occasions. It also denied knowledge of my disabilities and mental health issues, which it had evidence of in 2011, when I signed my first loan contracts.
In February 2017, I had discussions with Esco Pacific about a potential solar farm on Wingadee. In May, I signed a Licence Agreement with CWP Renewables to explore the viability of it. Recently the option expired partly due to a delay with Suncorp disputes. It might have generated millions of dollars in profits and with employment, but it failed.
On 9 October 2017, I was approached by Bruce Angel to agist up to 200 head of cattle on the farm. This would have provided me with revenue of $2,816.66 per month. Bruce Angel withdrew his interest, after being made aware of my dispute with the bank.
On 22 December 2017, Suncorp’s Wendy Calcott proposed a “without prejudice” meeting in January/February 2018, to resolve our disputes. This meeting did not happen. The bank, without my knowledge commenced foreclosure proceedings to evict me. Even though the valuers had increased the value of the farm, the bank later appointed receivers.
On 20 July 2018, John Logan of John Logan & Associates, issued a market valuation report for Wingadee, dated 20 July 2018, for $2,400,000. The report was prepared for Suncorp Bank.
On 10 September 2018, the Solar Farms Company was deregistered by ASIC.
On 12 December 2018, I attended Queensland Farm Debt Mediation with Suncorp Bank for the second time. The meeting was held at DLA Piper’s Brisbane office and DLA Piper’s representative was Kon Tsiakis. Suncorp’s manager Gerald Uncle also attended.
On 8 February 2019, my treating Psychiatrist, Dr Natasha Laukens, wrote to Michael Cameron, Wendy Calcott, Christopher Turvey and Gerald Uncle, supporting my request for Suncorp Bank’s dispute to be settled as soon as possible. In June, the bank appointed John Richard Park and Kelly-Anne Lavina Trenfield of FTI Consulting as its Receivers and Managers over Wingadee.
On 8 October 2019, John Logan of John Logan & Associates, issued a market valuation report for Wingadee, dated 8 October 2019, for $2,465,000. The report was prepared for the bank’s Receivers and Managers.
On 11 November 2019, I received a cash offer of $2,700,000 for Wingadee from Avocado Hill Trust, in writing. I did not accept the offer because of my dispute with Suncorp. The next day, Matthew Leslie, of Suncorp Bank, commenced a Customer Advocate Review, which continued for almost 12 months, until October 2020.
On 3 July 2020, I received an email from Suncorp Bank with an attached building rectification quote, which would cost more than $115,000. Among other things, the bank claimed that the house on Wingadee was a health hazard and safety concern.
On 4 February 2021, I received a notice of default to exercise a power of sale from Suncorp Bank, signed by DLA Piper Australia. The notice required me to pay the bank the sum of $2,469,927.04 by 12 March 2021.
On 18 February 2021, my treating Psychiatrist, Dr Natasha Laukens provided a further letter in relation to my mental state. Dr Laukens noted my declining mental condition was due to my father being diagnosed with a terminal illness and my dispute with Suncorp Bank. My solicitor, Geoffrey Cunningham of Payne, Butler & Lang, then forwarded a copy to the bank.
On 15 March 2021, Suncorp instructed Receivers and Managers to exercise their powers and take possession of Wingadee. They filed a statement of claim and commenced proceedings against me in the Supreme Court of Queensland.
On 9 August 2021, I exercised my rights to file complaints with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (“AFCA”) because the bank altered essential documents in my contract and its staff had changed my budgets. On 21 October, AFCA replied, No. 822449, that my case was closed.
On 12 November 2021, an enforcement warrant was filed in the Supreme Court by DLA Piper, proceedings No: BS 2992/2021. It authorised the Receivers and Managers to enter and take delivery of Wingadee. Suncorp offered to pay relocation expenses and 6 months basic rental. I was offered two days to accept and sixteen days to vacate my house and property.
On 30 June 2022, Term Loan 1 balance was $2,627,152.41, which included Suncorp Bank’s enforcement costs. On 1 September, Wingadee was passed in at auction and the property was then listed for sale by the Receivers and Managers.
I am still in dispute with Suncorp Bank’s directors, and I have negative net assets.
If the farm was sold, the Suncorp loan would be paid out, but I would still have money left over from the proceeds. I have lost millions of dollars fighting the bank, but it will still have to meet its responsibilities under the loan contract.
Over this period, I have dealt the bank’s misconduct on numerous occasions because it misappropriated funds and attempted to leave me and my family with nothing.
Where did my money go?
My money went to the bank’s directors and staff, their lawyers DLA Piper, Receivers and Managers FTI Consulting, and other agencies and associates.
I would like to explain that Suncorp Bank:
- Was not a prudent and diligent lender.
- Intimidated, bullied, and put undue pressure on me.
- Breached contracts by withholding documents pertinent to my rights.
- Did not attend farm debt mediation in good faith or ethically, which it caused serious losses in my trading, and
- Caused material economic losses and with irreparable reputational damage.
As a result of the practices by my bank’s directors and staff, I suffered a financial loss more than $3.7M.
Who would ever have thought that Queensland farmers would come under attack by a few powerful people in government, and have seen the farmers’ assets and savings decimated?
Who else would believe that this is where our losses came from, not from a foreign enemy or an invading army, but from seemingly friendly bankers?
Nobody would expect their farms and assets to be taken away by predators, who are regulated by government bodies and ministers supposed to protect us, instead of being the enemy we dreaded.