Ronald Feierabend’s Story 2
My name is Ron Feierabend, one of Suncorp Bank’s victims for ages now. I am keeping trying to resolve disputes with the bank, but this is proved a challenging and impossible process, not only for me but for all other Suncorp Bank’s customers.
For the past 12 months, I have repeatedly written to the bank and the regulators (ASIC, APRA, Commonwealth Ombudsman, etc.) alleging the bank dishonestly obtained a financial advantage and damaged our properties, but neither the bank nor regulators investigated my complaints.
To start my process, in August 2021, I wrote to Suncorp Bank’s Relationship Manager, Agribusiness Central Queensland, Mr. Paul Kirchner, stating:
The 2004 Code of Banking Practice, an essential part of my loan contract, was not given to me by the bank either before or when I signed my contract.
Mr Christopher Doogan AM acting for the bank and the Australian Bankers Association, on 13 June 2017 informed the Senate Economic References Committee Inquiry into Consumer Protection in the Banking, Insurance and Financial Sector:
- The Code was developed and controlled by the Australian Bankers’ Association, and,
- Once the bank subscribes to the Code, it becomes mandatory for that bank to comply with it.
I am willing to sign a Declaration that the bank did not provide me with a copy of the 2004 Code, nor did it comply with the Code when I was trying to resolve complaints.
The bank’s failure to provide me with the 2004 Code was deceitful, which meant I did not know what the bank’s responsibilities were nor what my rights were.
I am looking forward to meeting with you in order to resolve my complaints, which have to be dealt with free of charge.
Without any response from Mr. Kirchner, in September 2021, I again wrote to him, stating:
I have written to you on several occasions regarding allegations of misconduct by your bank. The bank did not provide me with the 2004 Code of Banking Practice either before or when I signed the loan contract in 2012.
This disappointed me because, without this Code, I was not able to access the essential elements of complaints handling in AS 4269-1995 Standard. It concerned me that the bank did not have a properly functioning complaint handling service, and this caused me a significant disadvantage.
In July 2019, ASIC stated that ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 was part of clause 35.1(b) of the 2004 Code. The failure to include this in the 2004 Code was unfair, as this clause only stated, ‘any other industry dispute standards or guideline which ASIC declares to apply to this Code’. I suggest the Australian Bankers Association should have included Regulatory Guide 165.
I believe my bank did not meet these standards when I filed complaints. Instead, the bank did not comply with provisions in the 2004 Code and the essential elements in AS 4269-1995 Standard when dealing with the serious allegation in my complaints.
I require a commitment from you and your directors to revisit my complaints and comply with this Code and the rule of law within 21 days.
I look forward to your confirmation that you and the bank will resolve my complaints free of charge.
I repeatedly wrote to Mr. Kirchner without success.
On 15 April 2022, I signed a Statutory Declaration and sent it to the bank, stating:
I signed a loan contract with Suncorp Bank in 2012, when John Mulcahy, Chief Executive, promised to comply with the 2004 Code. But he misled me.
When I signed the contract, the bank’s directors dishonestly told me disputes would be resolved free of charge, as set out in clause 35.1 of the 2004 Code. They said:
We will have an internal process for handling disputes with you. This process will (a) be free of charge; and (b) meet the standards set out in Australian Standard AS4269-1995 or any other industry dispute standard or guideline which ASIC declares to apply to this Code.
Not until 2021, did farmers who attended Parliament House meetings in 2018 and 2019 know which standard or guideline ASIC declares to apply to this Code. Bankers and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) deceived millions of customers between 2003 and 2014 because they did not know the guide referred to in clause 35.1(b) was ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001).
Prior to publishing the 2004 Code, ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001) was in place. My bank’s directors concealed this regulatory guide, using extortion to damage farmers like me. They misled the Royal Commission and were the architects of Australia’s greatest crime. This was a national problem indiscriminately destroying the lives of individuals and farmers.
On 3 June 2022, I wrote to Ms. Christine McLoughlin AM, the bank’s chair, stating:
I wrote to you on 24 May 2022 because your Chief Executive John Mulcahy and his board adopted the 2004 Code without including ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001) in clause 35.1(b).
Without it, farmers could not resolve disputes free of charge, nor could the bank attend Farm Debt Mediation in good faith. This is not an allegation, and Suncorp then took possession of our farm dishonestly.
I am also writing to Julie-Ann Jordan, Program Officer, Farm Business Debt Mediation, Queensland Rural, and Industry Development Authority because this is a systemic problem and has damaged other Suncorp clients.
The attached document identifies this practice was in place in 2004. The Code Compliance Monitoring Committee’s Bulletin 8 requires external parties attending mediation to advise us that they will ‘be handling dispute resolution and are obliged to comply with clause 35 of the Code.’
Without this guide, the mediator and DLA Piper did not meet this obligation when attending Farm Debt Mediation and the damages to us were significant.
Please rectify this oversight within 7 days so that the bank and its lawyers will not sell our farms.
Again, on 5 July 2022, I wrote to Suncorp Bank’s Chair, Ms. Christine McLoughlin, stating:
I refer to my letter of 30 June 2022, which set out my concerns with the way your bank has handled its responsibilities since my family has been customers.
My 30 June letter identified practices that your bank should have addressed prior to the review by Commissioner Kenneth Hayne and Rowena Orr in 2018. I would like to highlight the practices that you have not dealt with appropriately.
- In May 2004, chairmen and directors of subscribing banks, including Suncorp Bank, claimed that the 2003 and 2004 Code ‘will have an internal process for handling disputes with [customers] and [it] will be free of charge’.
- Your bank adopted the 2004 Code which claimed it would ‘meet the standards set out in Australian Standard AS 4269-1995 or any other industry dispute standard or guideline which ASIC declares to apply to the Code.’ This statement was made by your bank’s chairman who was ‘a trusted person in a high position of responsibility’, but he did not include ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001). Without this guide, customers could not resolve disputes free of charge and had to use the court.
- I wrote to you on several occasions in the past 12 months because your bank’s directors placed me in a position whereby its conduct was misleading. This was an act of fraud because your directors and your bank dishonestly obtained profits from misappropriating my business’ funds.
- Your directors should have been familiar with the House of Representatives’ inquiry into the impairment of customer loans to the committee’s 4 June 2015. A report filed by Tasmania Small Business Council’s Submission 61 (Attachment 1) states:
The definition of “fraud” is provided under section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW):
A person who, by any deception, dishonestly:
- Obtains property belonging to another, or
- Obtains any financial advantage or causes any financial disadvantage,
is guilty of the offence of fraud.
For the purposes of this definition:
“Dishonest” means dishonest according to the standards of ordinary people and is known by the defendant to be dishonest according to the standards of ordinary people.
- The misconduct by your bank’s directors might more accurately be described as ‘control fraud’. It occurred when a trusted person in a high position of responsibility in a company, corporation, or state subverts the organisation and engages in extensive fraud for personal gain. The term ‘control fraud’ refers both to the acts of fraud and the individuals who commit them. The concept of control fraud is based on the observation that the directors and Chief Executive of the company were uniquely placed to remove the checks and balances on fraud within a company.
- In my letter to you on 30 June 2022, I noted that Suncorp Bank did not provide me with a copy of its Standard Terms and the relevant code when I signed the Facility Offer. Without these documents, small businesses and farmers like me could not protect our rights. There were several other allegations supporting my concerns that your directors and leading banks misled millions of customers.
- I alleged your directors were involved in dishonest practices since 2004 when they adopted this code. During this period, your bank was listed on the Australia Stock Exchange (ASX) and your directors may have been obtaining credit including money laundering, fraud, and other criminal practices.
- Your directors knew or should have known that the ASX would only allow your bank to continue trading and raising capital on the stock market when it is sure that no funds would be used for responsible lending, money laundering, rigging rates, or other dishonest practices.
- Your directors will confirm that they knew or should have known that former Senator George Brandis QC and Professor at the Australian National University advised the government that small business customers could not afford to use the courts. The Former Governor General and Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Ninian Stephen had previously made the same statement.
- Without having access to the ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001) since 2003, customers like me had to use the courts to resolve disputes because there was no free of charge forum for us to use. The directors will also confirm that the Code Compliance Monitoring Committee reported leading banks, since 2013, had received more than one million complaints per year.
- Your bank’s directors did not meet the standards set out in the AS 4269-1995 Standard, which supports my family’s position that small businesses and farmers were not protected by the Code, Regulatory Guide 165 (2001), and the AS 4269-1995 Standard.
- The farmers and small businesses who attended meetings at Parliament House purchased a copy of the AS 4269-1995 Standard in 2021. This document was published by the OB/9 Committee which included:
- Law Consumers Association;
- Law Institute of Victoria;
- Law Society of N.S.W.;
- S.W. Law Reform Commission;
- Office of Consumer Affairs, Qld;
- Office of Fair Trading and Business Affairs, VIC; and
- Trade Practices Commission.
The commitments made by the OB/9 Committee require Suncorp Bank’s directors to ensure their staff and external lawyers comply with all the provisions of the document. My family is customers of the bank, and it should not have taken us until 2021 to understand that if the bank had not complied with the AS 4269-1995 Standard, they were in breach of the loan contracts and could not meet the good faith requirements to attend Farm Debt Mediation.
We have reviewed the transcripts of your bank when your Chairman and Managing Director appeared before the Royal Commission Rowena Orr in 2018. We believe your bank misled the Royal Commission. Suncorp Bank’s officers and executives who claimed that they would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth apparently ignored the Oath, when they did not tell the whole truth in relation to their directors’ misconduct since 2008.
We also found that your external lawyers did not attend Farm Debt Mediation in good faith, nor did they comply with the CCMC Bulletin 8. This was not an oversight that the bank and its external lawyer did not meet the commitments in the Code, AS 4269-1995 Standard, and ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001).
I attempted to explain the serious allegations of misconduct and practices by your bank since 2003, which was more serious than practices by Bernie Madoff, who was America’s greatest fraudster. I have not received your response nor an explanation of why the bank’s directors destroyed the businesses and lives of farming and small business customers for the last 19 years.
Until you have explained your directors’ position in relation to these practices, the farmers and small businesses who attended Parliament House meetings in 2018 and 2019 will continue to believe this was the greatest crime ever and that your bank willingly committed acts of fraud. Your decision to not provide us with all the relevant documents when we signed our loan contract was intentional and caused us financial and personal loss, pain, and damages.
I am also writing to your external solicitors, federal and state politicians, and third parties as your bank’s misconduct between 2008 and 2018 were kept from Kenneth Hayne.
I require a commitment by your directors to investigate the allegations in this letter and repay damages by EOD 12 July 2022.
More recently, on 25 November 2022, I wrote to Ms. Michelle Bain, Suncorp Bank’s General Counsel, stating:
I am writing to you because Suncorp Bank has sold us a loan contract claiming the bank will comply with the 2004 Code, but this was a dishonest document and allows the bank to avoid resolving disputes free of charge. It was a crime, and the directors will have to now accept responsibility for this.
The following information provides background to the crime, which has only been found to exist during the past 2 years.
In 1989, John Howard and his government commissioned a review of practices whereby industries could be self-regulated. The person responsible for carrying out this review was Berna Collier, Professor of Commercial Law, Centre for Commercial and Property Law, Queensland University of Technology.
In August 2000, the Taskforce on Industry Self-Regulation published recommendations that were intended to improve the performances of industries and would be better for both companies and customers. The Treasurer at that time was Peter Costello a highly qualified lawyer and experienced politician. There were a considerable number of recommendations, but the report highlighted:
Self-regulatory schemes tend to target specific problems within industries, impose lower compliance costs on businesses, and offer quick, low-cost dispute resolution procedures (p.1).
As consumers cannot guard against specific industry problems that they do not know exist, transparency in schemes is an important mechanism to ensure both credibility and accountability (p. 6).
Best practice in self-regulation. . . has important implications for the government’s approach toward a more efficient regulatory framework for both businesses and consumers (ToR, p. v). Good practice . . . can be understood as significantly improving market outcomes for consumers at the lowest cost to businesses (p. 59).
However, certain entities may not be able to meet the compliance costs of best practice even though minimum standards will provide consumers with appropriate service and protection.
We have set minimum standards for the training of advisers. By setting and enforcing these training standards, we aim to help licensees comply with their legal obligations to ensure that they and their representatives are adequately trained and competent to provide the services covered by their AFS licence. Under the Corporations Act licensees must adequately train and supervise their representatives and must themselves be competent.
It emphasises the importance of “Industry adherence to self-regulatory schemes” (p.61) and stressed “consumer awareness is an important element of good practice in self-regulation” (p. 68).
Redress encourages industry members to react promptly and fairly to complaints by having internal complaint resolution mechanisms and, where appropriate, subscribing to some form of fair and independent dispute resolution scheme. . . [It is] “essential to ensure that dissatisfied consumers have access to cost-effective mechanisms for resolving their complaints” (p.73) (emphasis added).
The Taskforce considers that a business should provide clear and accessible information to consumers on any independent customer dispute resolution mechanism to which the business subscribes.
Such independent customer dispute resolution mechanisms (outlined by the Taskforce and included in Submission 64 Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers) should be:
- efficient; and
- effective (p.74).
Establishing a self-regulatory scheme is only part of the equation. Industry also needs to be aware that it has a continual responsibility to ensure that self-regulation is addressing its objectives and ethical members are not being disadvantaged (p.78).
In 2002, David Murray and David Bell, made statements to small businesses and farmers stating the contemporary codes (2003 and 2004) required the banking industry to meet these key requirements. Murray and Bell stated:
The Australian Bankers’ Association today launched the new generation Code of Banking Practice which is the banking industry’s customer charter on best banking practice standards.
Chairman of the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA), David Murray said ‘The Code sets out the banking industry’s key commitments and obligations to customers on standards of practice, disclosure, and principles of conduct for their banking services.
This Code becomes operational in August next year when individual retail banks will adopt these standards and their compliance will be monitored by an independent panel.
This Code has real teeth as I know of no other banking Code in the world that is enforceable as a contract by the customer.
In 2004, Suncorp Bank’s directors adopted the 2004 Code, but its officers and executives did not meet David Murray and David Bell’s requirements. In August 2018, farmers like me attended a meeting at Parliament House and several people reported dissatisfaction in the way their banks had complied with the principles set out in Submission 64 (Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers). They expressed disappointment that the 6 key elements set out above were not addressed by their banks.
In 2021, it became evident that the 2004 Code was deceitful and that Suncorp Bank’s customers could not resolve disputes free of charge. This concerned small businesses and farmers from all parts of Australia. They now realised they were misled by the federal government, regulators, and the banks. Clause 35.1 states:
We will have an internal process for handling disputes with you. This process will:
- be free of charge;
- meet the standards set out in Australian Standard AS4269-1995 or any other industry dispute standard or guideline which ASIC declares to apply to this Code;
- adhere to the timeframes specified in this clause 35; and
- require us to provide written reasons for our decision on a dispute.
Customers were not protected by the 2004 Code because ASIC Regulatory Guide 165 (2001) Licensing: Internal and external dispute resolution was omitted from clause 35.1(b). By omitting this guide, Suncorp bank had a clear intent of committing a crime because no customers could resolve their disputes free of charge.
In December 2010, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia’s Submission 90 regarding competition in the banking sector. This report demonstrates the introduction of Self-regulation in the banking sector was for the benefit of the government, regulators, and the bank. The customers had no rights under the Code and as noted earlier in this report, the bank’s directors had the intention to use the Code to commit a crime.
The rules set out in the AS 4269-1995 Standard protect customers, but banks did not make these available to their clients. There was no requirement by banks to provide advice on the Standard and noting it set out the essential elements for complaint handling. The NSW Law Society is familiar with its role in protecting its members but has not required its members to protect their clients.
The new government will have to enforce these claims for up to $1.1M. Small businesses and farmers look forward to banks’ directors and senior executives being forced to pay this penalty for not complying with dispute resolution and Farm Debt Mediation rules set up 20 years ago. We understand banks must meet the rules set out in:
- Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) procedures
- hardship provisions (clause 25.2 of the Code)
- the AS 4269-1995 Standard, and
- effective disclosure of information.
The 26 million Australians, 3.5M small businesses, and 230,000 farmers can now, after 20 years of criminal practices by banks, protect property, machinery and livestock and funds they saved for generations.
Please confirm by return email when you received this important letter that should be forwarded to the bank’s directors since 2004.
I have been attempting to resolve my disputes with Suncorp Bank, the banking industry regulator, and Commonwealth Ombudsman, but sadly without success. I have now filed complaints with the government. My family believes the state government, for 20 years, profited from the bank and its regulators’ crime. It should have known about this, which it has concealed or compounded to protect the bank, not customers like us. I never can accept that these events could happen to me and my family in Australia.
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.
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.