Jim Davidson’s Story
My name is William James Davidson and I arrived in Australia when I was 46 years old. I wanted to set up a family business.
I was operating as a sole trader prior to 2008. In May, I set up the Far North Queensland Cattle Company Pty Ltd ACN 131 125 838 (‘FNQCC’). The farms were located near Atherton and also near Innisfail in Northern Queensland. We traded cattle and it was a successful business. The company was set up in 2008 but did not operate for the first 5 years.
In 2013, I met Suncorp Bank’s Atherton’s Manager, Ben Houlihan (‘Houlihan’) and Robert Drewitt (‘Drewitt’) because I wanted to refinance my debt. I required additional working capital and Houlihan had a cattle supply company, Farm North Queensland Stock & Realty Pty Ltd (‘Houlihan Rural’).
In February 2013, I was provided a Suncorp’s finance proposal from Houlihan. It offered $8.5M. I believed Houlihan falsified my application and prepared cashflow statements without my authorisation. As a result, my Suncorp application was approved.
On 30 June 2013, I owed Rural Bank $14,116,495.85 and it wrote off $6,116,495.85. This meant I still had to refinance $8M with Suncorp Bank. The value of my farms at that stage was $24M.
In August 2013, I received Suncorp’s Offer of Finance for $8.8M noting:
- Term Loan Facility No. 1 of 18 months with a limit of $6,000,000;
- Term Loan Facility No. 2 of 15 years with a limit of $1,800,000;
- Business Premium Account Facility No. 3 and No.4 with a limit of $800,000 and $200,000 respectively.
When I signed the agreement, I provided a personal guarantee along with the charge over up to 6,000 heads, but actually, I only had 100 cattle at that time.
In September 2013, I signed Suncorp Bank’s Offer, and in October, Houlihan, in his role as Suncorp Bank’s branch manager, purchased cattle, in my company’s name. I later found out that this transaction was carried out at inflated prices which benefited Houlihan. I did not authorise the purchases of these cattle, which had a total cost of $582,841.62.
At the same time, I discovered that Robert Drewitt had been purchasing other products, including fertiliser, and using my Suncorp Bank overdraft without my consent. Many of the items he ordered were defective.
Also at that time, Houlihan had used about 70% of my Suncorp Bank’s Overdrafts within a few days of it being active. He transferred nearly $500k from my account into his own and other accounts without my written or verbal authorisation. In late December 2013, I confronted Houlihan about this and he had extended the overdraft without my consent.
On 14 January 2014, Suncorp bank froze my accounts, and I was not overdrawn or had been issued with a default notice.
In February 2014, Suncorp Bank advised me that an investigation into Houlihan’s conduct was underway and that Houlihan had resigned. Its investigation concluded that all the transactions were authorised by my company, which was distressing. I confirmed with the bank that these documents were created, and none was signed by me.
In early April, I was suffering from stress and suggested that under the circumstances I could not continue looking after the cattle. But I retracted this statement not long after but the bank ignored it.
On 4 April 2014, Suncorp appointed receivers and managers from BDO (‘Receivers and Managers’) to FNQCC, claiming for reasons of default and safety concerns of the Heidke Road property. The company did not default, was never issued with a default notice, remedied the insurance policy lapse, and advised Suncorp thereof, before the Receivers and Managers were appointed. Suncorp Bank appointed receivers on the grounds the cattle were at risk and there was no insurance l had previously written a letter saying the cattle were in the fields and had lots of grass. Suncorp had also paid the insurance up to the end of April.
I filed proceedings against Suncorp and BDO, claiming that the appointment of Receivers and Managers was baseless. I also accused the bank’s employee, Houlihan, because his misconduct caused my company’s loss of $700,000. He had transferred about $700,000 from my company since October 2013 without my authorisation.
At about this time, cyclone ‘Ita’ hit North Queensland. My company lost almost 800 cattle and BDO did not attend to the farms to inspect the damages caused by cattle dying.
In May 2014, Suncorp Bank, BDO, and my company entered into a Deed of Settlement (‘Deed’). It required BDO to resign and for the bank to rebate my company $205,000 in interest. However, $95,000 was paid to Gadens Lawyers (Suncorp’s Counsel), and my company had to release the bank and BDO for the damages caused. The Deed was signed by me only due to the bank’s threatening practices.
In June, the company’s accountants prepared 2014 financial statements. They illustrated a loss of income of $638,067.72. Suncorp Bank’s debt was now $9,147,702.04, despite the original facility of $8.8M, with $800,000 undrawn. It meant my company’s debt in September 2013 had increased from $8M to $9.15M.
In July 2015 l had Chinese investors who entered a JV to purchase farms for $9M plus put $550000 deposit into the lawyer’s trust account. This JV offer was forwarded to Suncorp Bank for its consideration.
In August 2015, my company defaulted on Suncorp Bank’s loans, and I was required to attend Farm Debt Mediation (‘FDM’) without my lawyers. We settled with a Heads of Agreement (HoA) that provided an extension to pay certain amounts.
In 2016, Suncorp Bank rejected the Chinese JV offer, on the advice of BDO, previous Receivers and Managers.
On 7 March 2017, Suncorp Bank appointed BDO’s agents, Helen Newman and Andrew Peter Fielding, for the mortgagee in possession (‘AMIP’). In May, it issued my company with Notices of Exercise of Power of Sale and the following month, required me to vacate the Heidke Road property.
On 14 February 2019, I received advice from Michael Murphy, The Valuer, noting the value of my company was $22,581,000.
In 2021 ASIC deregistered my Company which l had previously sold all my machinery & cattle to fund my legal expenses.
I had a professional accountant review my case and it stated that Suncorp Bank:
- provided pure asset or ‘predatory’ loans without considering serviceability requirements;
- was not a prudent and diligent lender;
- falsified loan application forms and cashflow statements;
- was complicit in fraudulent activities of its staff members;
- facilitated inappropriate advice on the cattle operation that was to the advantage of its employees;
- breached the loan contracts by withholding documents pertinent to their rights;
- prejudiced and forced the signing of the Deed of Settlement under duress;
- caused material losses and irreparable reputational damage.
As a result of these practices by Suncorp Bank and its staff, I suffered damages totaling $24,040,275.
How could this happen to Queensland farmers for 20 years?
When my company signed loan contracts with Suncorp Bank, I did not know that its practices were deceitful, and that it had concealed relevant documents.
In August 2018, I attended meetings at Parliament House with other farmers and they were complaining that their banks were involved in dishonest practices. I suggest none of the farmers knew that the Royal Commission which was underway at that time was misled by the directors of leading banks.
At about that time, the Code Compliance Monitoring Committee (CCMC) noted there were more than a million complaints per year, and a quarter of a million had requested financial assistance. Therefore, complaints like mine were not unique.
On 14 December 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Governor General signed a Letters Patent, which was the Royal Commission’s first step regarding Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation, and Financial Services Industry. It required Suncorp Bank’s directors to provide Kenneth Hayne information regarding misconduct, whether criminal or legal, and whether its practices, behaviours, and business activities fell below community standards.
The farmers attending Parliament House in August 2018 reviewed the Royal Commission transcripts. They wanted to determine whether Dr. Zgmunt Switkowski AO, Suncorp Bank’s Chair, and his directors, including its managing director Michael Cameron, had provided these documents to Kenneth Hayne as requested on 15 December 2017.
Our review, during the past 12 months, notes Suncorp Bank’s directors, when questioned by the Royal Commission, had to swear they would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. However, there was no evidence suggesting that the bank’s officers met commitments under the Oath.
Since 2021, there are other allegations concealed by Suncorp Bank’s officers, including Christine McLoughlin, Lindsay Tanner, and its General Counsel Belinda Speirs.
Apart from writing to the bank’s directors and the regulators, my greatest concern was the complaints farmers like me filed with the Commonwealth Ombudsman. It had to determine whether the regulators met their requirements under the Act. However, when we contacted the Ombudsman, we were confused because Penny McKay, Acting Chair, and her Minister, Mark Dreyfus QC would have known our allegations were withheld from farmers in every state of Australia. This was extraordinary.
I repeatedly told the bank’s officers and the regulators that Suncorp Bank’s Chairman adopted the 2004 Code without including essential documents. In particular, by omitting ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001) from the Code, the bank had a clear intent of committing a crime.
My complaint had previously been filed with Christine McLoughlin and her directors. They had to meet their responsibilities under the 2004 Code. When I attempted to resolve my disputes free of charge, (Clause 35.1(a)), it was not going to happen. The bank’s directors had also previously made a commitment to meet the Australia Standard AS 4269-1995 (Clause 35.1(b)), but this was misleading because the standard was not free of charge.
Suncorp Bank also, under clause 35.1(b), had to comply with the industry dispute standard or guideline which ASIC declares to apply to this code. However, this document was not available, and the farmers did not obtain a copy until recently.
We were fortunate to identify this crime. It explained Suncorp Bank’s directors did not comply with the code nor pay for dishonest practices. It provided evidence that the bank’s directors could avoid having to pay compensation and provide farmers with an apology as set out in the AS 4269-1995 Standard.
I have filed complaints with Joseph Longo and Sarah Court, but they did not use ASIC’s powers to suspend or cancel Suncorp Bank’s license when it was involved in criminal practices.
I am one of the farmers who wrote to the new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, shortly after he was appointed. We were victims of practices by banks and regulators for 20 years and trusted Albanese to take immediate action.
This story has been prepared for and at the request of Mr. William James Davidson. In preparing this story, I have relied on the source information provided to us by Mr. William James Davidson and have believed this information is accurate and complete.
I have also supplemented the source documentation provided with publicly available information, where appropriate.