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Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Page: 3802


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (20:50): I rise tonight to speak on a most insidious matter, a disgusting breach of trust and a shameful insult to hardworking Australians who are trying to put some money aside for their future, for their kids' education, for their peace of mind. I speak tonight on behalf of the victims of Peter Holt—on behalf the mechanics, the trade teachers, the office managers, the animal carers, the speech pathologists, the pool installers, the educators, the retirees and the small business owners who put their retirement savings—and, of course, their trust—in this Melbourne accountant turned financial adviser who stitched these folks up and took them to the proverbial cleaners, wiping out not just their savings and investments but deceiving them into taking out high-interest loans that continue to haunt these folks long after the collapse of their initial investment.

Peter Holt assured his victims that, while their investments had a level of risk, of course their homes would be safe, knowing full well that these families were putting their property, their lives and their livelihoods on the line. He himself has been bankrupted, on paper, but he had rat cunning—some would say the devious foresight—to protect his personal assets from the inevitable collapse—as the media have reiterated, as their attention has once again, thankfully, turned to those who stand to profit from this government's decisions to wind back the consumer protections contained in FoFA. Despite a bankruptcy on paper, Peter Holt still lives in a multimillion dollar home, drives a European sports car, and enjoys the luxury of mid-week rounds of golf. He is a crook, a criminal and a fraudster and, frankly, it is not good enough when a creep like that gets away with it. Yesterday I met with Naomi Halpern, just one of the victims of Peter Holt. I sat down with opposition leader Bill Shorten and shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen to hear her story. Hers is an intelligent and articulate story. As I have said, it is a story of a disgusting breach of trust by Peter Holt. Naomi was a client of Mr Holt, seeking him out for assistance with her taxes and the accounts of her small business. He obviously had a fair idea of her finances and suggested she put some money into a 'government backed' scheme called Timbercorp. He burnished his credentials, assuring her he was a former tax office official and he offered her a chance to support local farmers by investing in avocadoes, olives and almonds. It all sounds so idyllic. But the government backing Mr Holt claimed was merely a tax credit and, when the then minister responsible, Peter Dutton, ended the credits in early 2007, shares in Timbercorp, which was nothing more than a pyramid scheme, collapsed overnight.

What that collapse had in common with many high-profile investments that predated the FoFA reforms was people like Peter Holt making their money not by giving tailored advice to people like Naomi Halpern but by abusing the trust of hardworking Australians and earning a sales commission for plugging a scheme that was heading for failure. He knew that it was heading for failure. Peter Holt was acting in his own best interests, not in the best interests of Naomi Halpern or the action group that she represents that has dozens, if not hundreds, of members that this one gentleman ripped off.

The changes to FoFA introduced by Senator Cormann and announced on Friday will be putting smiles on the faces of people like Peter Holt and others who plug these shonky schemes that rip off good, hardworking Australians. Senator Cormann is diluting the best-interest test in FoFA, allowing the likes of Peter Holt to raise their hands and claim, deceitfully, that their dishonest documentation, doctored loan agreements and blatant lies were in the best interests of people like Naomi Halpern.

As I have said in this chamber once before, make no mistake: if Minister Cormann is successful in pushing these changes through, he and this government must take full and unambiguous responsibility for the scandals that inevitably lie ahead. This government have once again unravelled basic consumer protections to allow the likes of crooks and criminals such as Peter Holt to abuse a most basic fiduciary duty, once again con their clients under the guise of financial advice and pick the pockets of unsuspecting, honest, trusting Australians.

Peter Holt's case has gone through the bankruptcy courts, and the liquidators have been through his loan documents. Some have the asset, liability and income details left blank. Victims were told by Peter Holt, 'Don't worry; we'll finalise the details later.' Others showed liability details erased or amended. Peter Holt was aware of what he was doing and he knew he could get away with it.

Peter Holt engaged the services of another disgrace to the Australian financial services industry: crooked lawyer and creep Graeme Watters of law firm Bentley Watters and Associates. That is nothing more than a sham law firm and it should not be allowed to operate in this country. Mr Watters was bragging, assuring Peter Holt that he could provide him with 'legal bulletproofing', telling customers and clients, 'You can't go after this guy. I have bulletproofed him.' The fact that Graeme Watters is still allowed to practise law in Victoria is an indictment of the Victorian legal system. Frankly, if an investigation has not already begun, the Victorian legal system should be investigating a crooked creep like this bloke.

I am passionate about this issue. I am passionate about this issue because I feel that crooks like Peter Holt and Graeme Watters have been allowed to get away with these crimes. We in this parliament have a duty to provide Australians with the protection of the rule of law. The Australian financial advice industry should not be about lawyers, guns and money. Our legislation or, in Minister Cormann's case, regulations cannot permit dodgy lawyers to bulletproof deceptive financial advisers and allow them to skim hard-earned money from ordinary, good Australians and then leave them repaying deceptive loans they did not even know they had.

Senator Cormann's FoFA reforms reopen the loopholes which enabled Peter Holt and others to rip off good Australians. Senator Cormann's changes to the best-interest duty will enable advisers like Peter Holt to narrow the advice they offer to self-serving suggestions, such as Timbercorp. These changes open up the door, once again, for the payment of kickbacks from issuers to advisers and this includes through the winding back of the general advice exemption, the 'execution only' exemption, permissible revenue, volume rebates and incentives to gear investments.

Naomi Halpern, who I spoke about earlier, is just one of many victims. Peter Holt is just one deceitful predator. With the introduction of these FoFA reforms, too many other people will once again be ripped off, conned and taken for a ride. Frankly, we in this parliament and in this Senate have a responsibility to make sure we stand up for Australians against these crooks and their crooked lawyers.