Farmers whose properties were foreclosed on by the ANZ bank since 2010 have made explosive claims about the devastation suffered by those who defaulted.
Two have given evidence at a parliamentary inquiry hearing, in Sydney, into the banking industry’s practice involving loans.
Rod Culleton, of Williams in Western Australia, and Margaret Menzel, representing sugar cane farmers, gave evidence.
Mr Culleton was a cereal and sheep farmer until he lost the farm in 2013 and has been fighting the ANZ in the courts and in the media ever since.
He said ANZ had admitted to overcharging in fees incurred during the transition [from Landmark to ANZ] and “is giving a lot of that back”.
In answers to the committee, Mr Culleton said he, and others in positions of default to ANZ, were “held at gunpoint” after receivers were sent in.
“That’s reality,” Mr Culleton said.
“Ten [police] came to my place that day [the receivers came in 2013].
“At Bruce Dixon’s it was caught on TV. There were four police with their pistols on us and there were SWAT teams up in the bush, and we were held at gunpoint that day, quite horrific really.
“We went there to support Bruce Dixon,” Mr Culleton said.
He also claimed another defaulter with ANZ was “victimised that much by receivers and police … tipped 15 litres of petrol over his head and set himself on fire”.
According to Mr Culleton he was in a coma for six months.
During the hearing, Mr Culleton asked Brett Fallon of the Whitsunday region to stand to demonstrate his maimed and burnt hands, after his self-immolation.
He submitted the story of Mr Fallon to the inquiry, describing him as a Queensland cane and cattle farmer who had a Landmark loan of .5 million and ANZ demanded it be repaid in 2010.
“Over the next three years Brett Fallon sold assets and all the proceeds [.7 million] were paid to the ANZ.”
“Mr Fallon then attended the Ingham branch of the ANZ in May 2013 and was told his outstanding loan was million, and his cattle and crops belonged to [someone else, name withheld].”
Mr Fallon claimed outside the hearing that a lot of people could not attend because they had taken their own lives.
He echoed calls for a Royal Commission into banking practice and the establishment of a nationalised Rural Development Bank, to give a break to farmers who had seen their land devalued.
ANZ’s takeover of Landmark’s loan book
When ANZ took over Landmark’s loan book in 2010, from the scandal-ridden Australian Wheat Board, Mr Culleton said he received a series of emails outlining the transition.
Reading from the emails he said, “‘Landmark and ANZ will be working together to keep you informed of any changes'”.
“‘You aren’t required to do anything, and until 2010 your accounts and cheque book will work the same way as they always have.
“‘If you have any questions please speak to your rural financial manager,'” Mr Culleton quoted from the email.
But he said there was no local manager in Bunbury and he could never speak to anyone on the phone to discuss the new ANZ bank terms.
Mr Culleton claimed he would have been able to repay the loan, but did not want to bank with ANZ.
“I never signed over to ANZ Bank,” he said.
“They created new bank accounts calling me a customer, and then they defaulted me on accounts that were foreign to my company and companies.”
He explained in submissions that he wanted to have the freedom to move loans, but felt he was prevented from doing so.
“I have the right to go elsewhere,” he said.
“We’re not on some conspiracy theory, we’re telling the truth,” Mr Culleton told the hearing.
ANZ and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are expected to give evidence in April, delaying a report which was due in March 2016.