Banking royal commission: His $22m family farm was sold off, but his voice won’t be heard
By Daniel Ziffer and Danielle Bonica
25 Jun 2018
If things were different, Bill Mott would not be in Melbourne, trying to speak at the royal commission.
He’d be like he was four years ago: a happily married father of five children, with a $22 million estate in the Western Downs region of Queensland, about five hours inland from Brisbane. He’d mix cropping and livestock, watching carefully over his adult children as they tended their own parcels of land.
Instead, he’s walking through a whipping Victorian wind to the hearings of the banking royal commission, divorced, his children spread across the nation and without land or a home to his name.
“I want to confront the NAB bankers who took my farm,” he said, sitting in the back row during a break in the hearings.
Bill travelled from Meandarra, without booking a return ticket, to have his say.
He detailed the toll losing the farm had on him and his family:
“It was tough,” he said, speaking in halting sentences. “It proved to be even more tough on my marriage. It destroyed it.”
One son now works hours away, and his daughter toils in a remote area of the Northern Territory. His youngest son Ben, who now lives on a property looking over the land he used to farm, has sustained bouts of serious depression.
“(Ben) suffered badly, mentally, with the strain of it all. He worked for that all his life, and he could see that was just taken away from him,” Bill said.
PHOTO: Bill Mott visits a neighbouring property where his son now works, near their old farm in Meandarra. (ABC News: Daniel Ziffer)
As a father, he struggled too.
“I couldn’t cope with the fact that he couldn’t cope,” he said, pausing for a long time, his eyes glistening with tears.
“Anyone who has children will know what I’m talking about … I felt that it was my fault”.
Bill Mott’s story is familiar.
Farmers are often rich in assets — like land, machinery and sown crops — but poor in cash, relying on large annual payments for crops harvested and livestock sold.
With two huge variables, the weather and commodity prices, they can get into trouble as debt strangles their cashflow.
After negotiating the 2008 purchase of blue-chip ‘once in a generation’ land in the tightly-held area, the Motts prospered. But after a flood and a few poor seasons they were in trouble, using their overdraft to pay their mortgage.
That’s not uncommon in farming. But the debt kept rising, even as money came in. Bill Mott said they couldn’t work out why they couldn’t get ahead. He now blames the incorrect application of interest rates.
PHOTO: Bill Mott said the debt on his property kept rising, even as money came in. (ABC News: Daniel Ziffer)
When Bill Mott’s bank NAB — where he’d been a customer for 42 years — abruptly cancelled his overdraft, he defaulted on a payment and receivers were called in. The machinery and land were sold, in a depressed market, for $7 million.
“I didn’t really believe it was going to be sold. I really had no choice,” he said. “They really came after me.”
The sale valued the land, three years ago, at around $400 per acre. Land just across the road sold this year for $1,000 per acre.
Bill Mott alleges fraud and maladministration in his account. He’s met with the bank, he’s hand-delivered a letter to the chair, Ken Henry, to little response. The only option appears to be taking NAB, which has a market capitalisation of more than $70 billion, to court.
“I don’t see any other way. It costs a lot of money to do that sort of thing and if you run out of money you still lose,” he said.
“I initially put a lot of faith in the royal commission, but I see now it’s really not going to provide compensation, it’s not going to fix problems — it may stop problems in the future but it’s certainly not going to fix the ones out there now.”
PHOTO: Bill Mott will be sitting in the stalls at the royal commission’s hearings in Brisbane this week. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
NAB denies Bill Mott’s accusations of fraud in his account, and said the correct interest rates were applied to his debt.
In a statement, NAB Agribusiness general manager Khan Horne said receivership was both rare and only ever a last resort.
“NAB worked with the Mott family … providing additional funding through seasonal volatility and unexpected requirements for new equipment and other farming expenses across 2008-2013,” Mr Horne said.
“A thorough review of all facilities was conducted which confirmed the correct rates were applied at all times. These rates were disclosed at the time the facilities were established”.
The NAB full statement read:
We understand the impact the receivership and subsequent sale of farming properties has had on Bill Mott and his family. Receivership is rare and only entered into as the last resort.
NAB worked with the Mott family over several years, providing additional funding through seasonal volatility and unexpected requirements for new equipment and other farming expenses across 2008-2013.
After further seasonal underperformance in 2013 which resulted in below forecast crop yields of approximately 70 per cent and an inability to meet loan repayments, NAB met with the Mott family and their legal and financial advisors and together, agreed to a receivership process and ultimate sale of the Mott properties.
We have continued to meet with Bill and his advisors to listen to and talk through concerns over many years. Recently this has included concerns around interest rates. As discussed with Bill and his family, a thorough review of all facilities was conducted which confirmed the correct rates were applied at all times. These rates were disclosed at the time the facilities were established.
Bill isn’t going to testify at the royal commission. He’s not going to talk to NAB.
There have been 6,591 public submissions to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, and the commission chooses who it wants to talk to. They’ve had only 16 witnesses so far, or 0.2 per cent of people who’ve put themselves forward.
More than that, the NAB witnesses examined in the hearings he was attending were covering different issues and wouldn’t know about his case.
The only punter who “had their say” at the royal commission in Melbourne yelled at Commissioner Kenneth Hayne as he exited at the end of the day.
Justice Hayne, who’d copped it at an earlier hearing from the same man, Elliot Sgargetta, just kept walking. Mr Sgargetta hasn’t been back.
The royal commission’s hearings in Brisbane this week will take evidence from potentially three farmers, from across Australia.
Bill Mott will be sitting in the stalls. But his story won’t be told.