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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2794


Mr CHYNOWETH(1.21) —This is only the second time in the four years that I have been a member of this House that I have spoken in the grievance debate. I use this debate only when I believe there is a very serious problem affecting my constituents. I wish to bring to the attention of the House and the people of Australia a case of gross unfairness against five of my constituents in Dunkley, which has been brought about by one of Australia's major banks-a bank which last year made a profit of $303m. I am, of course, referring to the National Australia Bank Ltd. I want honourable members to remember that profit of $303m because it will demonstrate the unfairness of the National Australia Bank's stand in relation to this most unfortunate situation.

On 8 December 1985, Mr and Mrs St Elmo Sonn and their three children arrived as immigrants from South Africa. They later received a bank cheque from South Africa, on selling their property. It was for a quite significant amount. They deposited the bank cheque in the Karingal branch of the National Australia Bank on 23 December 1986. On 16 February 1987, that is, 56 days later, Mr Sonn asked for a National Australia Bank cheque for $7,500. He received the cheque immediately and then paid a deposit on a house in Frankston. On 23 February 1987, seven days after the bank had given Mr Sonn a bank cheque, the manager of the Karingal branch of the National Australia Bank rang and stated that the cheque from South Africa that was deposited with them for three months had been returned from South Africa, as the cheque violated exchange controls.

Mr and Mrs Sonn paid the $7,500 to the real estate agent, acting on the belief that their cheque had been cleared by the bank. They have been informed by the real estate agent and the solicitor for the vendor that their $7,500 will not be returned to them. The vendor's solicitors are legally correct in what they have done. However, I would have thought that after they became aware of the situation Mr and Mrs Sonn found themselves in, through no fault of their own, they would have at least deducted expenses they had incurred and returned the balance to them. I have spoken to the solicitors and they have told me that there is no way they will return the money. Mr and Mrs Sonn now find themselves without a house and owing the National Australia Bank $7,500 through no fault of their own.

Let me go through this situation step by step. On 23 December 1986, a bank cheque arrived from South Africa and was deposited in the National Australia Bank. On 16 February 1987, Mr and Mrs Sonn went to the bank and received a bank cheque for $7,500. They paid the cheque to a real estate agent. The real estate agent cashed the cheque-the National Australia Bank cheque-and the bank paid the money to the real estate agent and the vendor's solicitor. On 23 February 1987 the bank stated that the cheque deposited with it for 63 days was not legal. The fault in this situation lies squarely with the National Australia Bank. It should not have given out a bank cheque if the cheque from South Africa had not been cleared.

This bank has enormous resources and has said that it will fight Mr Sonn if he takes the matter to court. I believe that the National Australia Bank should consider its position particularly in relation to any damages action that could be served against it. The National Australia Bank has approximately 43,000 shareholders and I would like a large number of them who are listening to or reading this speech to write to the directors, including Sir Rupert Clarke and Sir Peter Finley, and the General Manager, Mr Nobby Clark. These are the people who are administering the harsh policies of this bank. In an article in today's Age, Mr Nobby Clark, General Manager of the National Australia Bank, states:

If there is money to be made there, big banks will do it.

Truer words were never spoken. Is it any wonder that the average person views the large private banks as greedy and avaricious when they make profits of $303m, and when they make a mistake and cause one of their customers to lose $7,500 they have the audacity to demand that he pay for their error?

I am exercising in this debate one of the greatest privileges a politician has-that is, to take on any organisation, without fear, on behalf of his constituents. I will pursue this matter on behalf of my constituents who through no fault of their own have been unjustly and unfairly treated by the National Australia Bank. Let me finish by once again quoting that great Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, in a passage just used by the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Tickner):

We do say that it is the duty and responsibility of the community and particularly, those more fortunately placed, to see that our less fortunate fellow citizens are protected from those shafts of fate which leave them helpless and without hope. This is the objective for which we are striving. It is as I have said before, the beacon; the light on the hill to which our eyes are always turned and to which our efforts are always directed.