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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29501

Mr MOSSFIELD (7:50 PM) —I rise to speak about the collapse of Commercial Nominees Australia and the impact that is having on one of my constituents in Greenway. Commercial Nominees Australia was the trustee of approximately 500 small superannuation funds, among them the ECMT, or Enhanced Cash Management Trust. In March 2000, APRA, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, began investigations into Commercial Nominees because it was feared that several of the superannuation funds for which they were the trustee were facing substantial losses.

On 7 November 2000, the board of Commercial Nominees froze all withdrawals from the ECMT. This date is important because it has a direct bearing on my constituent's case. Finally, on 10 May this year, Commercial Nominees was placed into liquidation. APRA obviously move with lightning speed when people's savings are at risk—it took them only 14 months to take this action! Since that time, there have been numerous requests to this government for action. But, to date, the minister responsible, the member for North Sydney, appears to be acting with the same lightning speed as APRA, because he has done nothing yet.

We often hear of corporate collapses and we know that people suffer, but it often does not really register unless we can put a human face to the tragedy. So, to put a human face on this corporate collapse, I would like to read into the record of Hansard excerpts from a letter to Minister Hockey from one of my constituents, Mrs Heather Emerson of Blacktown. This letter follows on from correspondence I have also sent regarding this matter. The letter read:

Dear Mr Hockey,

I am writing to you in desperation and begging for your help. I am Les Emerson's wife. He has written to you previously re the loss of all his superannuation in the amount of $149,000 through Commercial Nominees Australia. Put yourself in our place. We have absolutely nothing left. This is affecting our health and our marriage. The stress is totally unbelievable. Can you imagine what it is like? We trust no-one now. We can't even afford repairs to our van, should the need arise, which we need to transport our totally dependent, severely disabled (cerebral palsy) son. He cannot do a thing for himself!

We believe fraud was involved in the loss of our money and possibly others too! APRA is involved and we believe they didn't carry out their duties properly re this company. The super was put into an ECMT with Commercial Nominees in cash only—not stocks or shares but cash—only to find out it was all gone, withdrawn without our knowledge or permission. I repeat: we applied to withdraw from Commercial Nominees on 3 October 2000 after being told by Mr Frank Briggs the money was there. The funds were frozen on 7 November 2000 but our money was withdrawn on 1 October 2000.

These dates are very important. They asked to withdraw the funds on 3 October, over a month before the funds were frozen on 7 November, only to find out that somebody beat them to it. Their money disappeared on 1 October. I will continue with Mrs Emerson's letter:

No-one, not the acting trustees Oakbreeze or Ferrier and Hodgson, can tell us who, what, where or how this happened. There has been very little communication from these companies.

There is a great deal more in this letter but I will go to the final few sentences, where she states:

The cold hard fact is if something happened to either of us we can't afford to pay medical bills or pay for a funeral. We can't afford to bury each other! Lovely, isn't it? Please do not think I am being dramatic. This is cold reality! I cannot impress on you enough how much your assistance is needed. Please do something about section 229.

And it is signed:

Regards and hope, Heather Emerson.

The reference to section 229 is very important. It refers to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act and gives the minister the power to compensate members who have lost money as a result of theft or fraud. Asking to withdraw funds on 3 October only to find that somebody else had done it on the 1st appears to me to involve either one or the other. The Emersons are in a desperate situation. All their money has disappeared and they have a severely disabled son who needs constant care. Nobody can tell them how their money disappeared. (Time expired)