Tasmanian cattle farmer describes how the ANZ Bank 'picked our carcass to bits'

Michael Hirst at the royal commission Image: Screenshot from webcast.
  • A Tasmanian farmer was left “destitute” after the ANZ Bank forced the sale of his property.
  • That was five years ago and still with no apology.
  • In the banking royal commission today an ANZ executive offered an apology.

Former Tasmanian cattle farmer Michael Hirst, who says he was left destitute by the ANZ, today described how the bank “picked our carcass to bits”, forcing the sale of the family’s assets, including property and stock.

He was the first farmer to give evidence this week in the financial services royal commission.

It was an unscheduled appearance following evidence by Benjamin Steinberg, the ANZ Bank’s head of lending services, who was with a taskforce looking at high risk files from a group of loans acquired from Landmark Financial Services in 2009.

Hirst and his wife Dimity, who say they were encouraged by the bank to buy land and plant trees via a scheme with now-collapsed timber company Gunns, had the valuations on their property cut by 40% in 2011.

They had a loan facility with the bank of about $5 million. The cash from their timber dried up when the woodchip industry fell and the bank then forced them to sell.

“They (ANZ Bank) have never once ever shown any empathy, they have never shown any compassion and they have never apologised,” Michael Hirst told the commission today.

“And where I’m from if you do something wrong there’s nothing wrong with apologising. But these guys refused to.”

Earlier, Lachlan Molesworth, counsel for the Hirsts, asked Benjamin Steinberg of the ANZ Bank: “Why is it so do difficult for the bank to say: ‘We got it wrong’?”

Steinberg: “I think I have admitted on behalf of my bank that some behaviour here that has been short of community standards, and some misconduct. So, what I hope I am communicating by being here today is a preparedness to acknowledge wrongdoing when we commit it.”

Molesworth asked: “Are you aware that five years after the Hirsts being left financially destitute… the bank to this day has never apologised to them?”

Steinberg replied: “I didn’t deal with the Hirst matter so I am unaware of whether an apology was made. May I take that opportunity now to offer the Hirsts that apology.”

In another rural case study today, the commission was told that Queensland cattle farmer Elizabeth Handley asked for a delay to a mediation meeting with the ANZ Bank after she received medical tests that she had cancer. This was refused.

After selling properties in 2014, the Handley family still owed the ANZ Bank $309,000 debt. A lawyer acting for the Handley family asked the bank to forgive this because the properties were sold below market rate.

ANZ at first rejected this. However, an internal ANZ memo in July 2017 recommended the amount not be pursued. The bank didn’t communicate that to the Handleys until January 2018.

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