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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13191

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (10:08): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

There would be few people in Australia, let alone in this parliament, who would not be aware of what is taking place in rural Australia. When I say 'rural Australia', there are 4½ thousand empty houses in Mackay, so there are going to be a lot of people sold up there. Between Dysart, Moranbah and Charters Towers there are another thousand empty houses. The south-west, without any coal seam gas operations now, will probably be in a worse state, so there will be foreclosures—to quote the bard—'hell, west and crooked'.

Having said those things, I made a public statement that, on the figures I had, there was a person—and I do not like using this term these days, but I will use it here; I cannot avoid it—committing suicide in one of the cattle areas every three weeks. When the figures were published at the end of the year before last, it was actually one every two weeks. And do not think this is always confined to cattle farmers. There are contractors and employees who fall into this category and some of them will fare much worse than the cattle station owners. No-one in this place seems to worry about that; no-one has done anything about it. So it is naive to raise such matters in this place. There is a grave lack of humanity—except with respect to my colleague Mr Wilkie here. It seems only to be Independents who react to the pain of the people out there.

I asked Jimmy Geaney of Geaney's Real Estate and Livestock, a stock and station agent in Charters Towers and one of the biggest private stock and station agents in Australia, about forced sales—we agreed to define that as a sale within two months. I asked him what percentage of market value, bank value if you like, you would get in such a sale. He said: 'I do not know whether you would get 40 per cent. Yes, I think you could get 40 per cent'—this was two or three years ago—'Even in the collapsed cattle market after the dreadful live cattle decision you would get 40 per cent.' I asked, 'What if you have time in which to sell it?' He asked me to define 'time' in that context. I said, 'Let's say two years.' If you are trying to sell a cattle station—an asset of maybe $3 million, maybe $11 million or maybe $20 million—you are not going to do that overnight. It is not like a house in the city where there are thousands of buyers walking around. You do not find that in this area. He said, 'I think you would get 80 per cent.' 'Even in the current collapsed market?' I asked. His answer was yes and he gave three examples—two stations he had sold and one someone else had sold—where they had achieved 80 per cent of market value. So there is a huge difference between a bank forcing a sale within a two-month period and a bank giving the people time to offload at a decent price.

So this bill has a provision for a notification. When the bank claims there is a default—and, in our experience, often there is not a default; the bank just claims there is a default—they put that in a notification that is registered. The bank must communicate the claim of default to the person concerned so that he then has a clear understanding that he has two years to fix things up—or else. We are not going after the banks. I have never been a bank basher and I do not intend to be in the future. Having said that, my staff—and I must thank them—advise me that we should get them to maintain the payment of interest. If this were back in the eighties and early nineties, when the cattle industry was paying 22 or 23 per cent interest, we might take a different view on this. But we hope that governments in the future will not show the irresponsibility that was shown in those years.

Let me be very specific. We have a case on our books—and I will fudge the figures a little bit to protect the people concerned—where the property was sold in six weeks. It was a property with a market value near enough to $13 million—and it was sold in six weeks. You can find a buyer in six weeks? There were 20 parties who showed interest. In six weeks the bank chose a party—any party—and flogged off the station. They got $6 million for it. The cattle on that station, which is on one of the biggest rivers in Australia, are now worth nearly 100 per cent more than $6 million. If only this person had been given two years! Well, he wasn't. His son committed suicide and his wife suffered great trauma, as any decent person would in that situation. The bank's performance in this case has been absolutely appalling. I would not like to be that bank when the lawyers go after them.

Clauses 22(2) and 22(3) of schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 refer to imbalance of power. If you are a very powerful party in a transaction and the other party is in a very weak position, then you must not take advantage of that power. You must act as if you do not have that overwhelming power. I would not be able to buy groceries to feed my family next week without a banker's permit if I were down the hole. I could not even get a feed without their permission! That is how powerful they are. On the other side you have the cattle farmers, the sugarcane farmers and others. But for anyone who thinks this is confined to the cattle industry: I only know five out of the top 22 growers in the grains industry, and three of them are gone. One of the most outstanding and prominent figures in the sugar industry in Queensland over the last 25 years, Max Menzel, was rolled by the banks. He was chairman of his mills for nearly 20 years—a very august position. He held many representative positions over a long period of time. So this is not confined to the cattle industry, I can assure you. The imbalance of power is being completely ignored by the banks—completely and utterly ignored. Clause 22(1) deals with unconscionable conduct. Do you think its conscionable to go out and flog a bloke's property out from underneath him on the basis of six weeks notice, giving him no say in the sale whatsoever and leaving him completely destroyed financially? If that is not unconscionable conduct, I do not know what is! We will see you in court on that one. We have dozens of these cases.

I will give you another example of what has taken place out there—in this case a person who questioned the bank's right to do this. The bank was in flagrant breach of clause 22, and they applied inducements. I will give you an example. The bank might say: 'We don't want to kick your family out of your house in town and onto the street. They would have nowhere to go. We don't want to do that.' Well, that is duress. The implication is: 'If you do not sign here and allow us to do whatever we want to do, then that is exactly what we are going to do.' There is the inducement of leaving the family in the house. So you have a very clear-cut example of inducement and duress, which may amount to fraud. But that will be a problem for the banks, when they are dragged into the courts. These people are not allowed to speak. They are forced to sign a document saying, 'I won't say anything to anyone about this.'

This place is not interested in this issue. This place has done absolutely nothing to help us. But we will remember. Do you think that the people of Australia are not interested? Well, David Pascoe's letter got 3½ million hits on the internet. People are interested. (Time expired)