Inquiry told of farmers’ conflict with banks
QUEENSLAND has a high number of beef producers suffering financial stress bringing them into conflict with banks, the Banking Royal Commission has been told.
Senior Counsel Assisting, Rowena Orr, QC, has told the week-long Brisbane hearing of the "Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry'' that the Commission will examine farming finance, insurance issues related to disasters and finance in indigenous communities.
Ms Orr said Australian farmers faced with low rainfall were subject to more revenue volatility than farmers in almost any other country in the world.
Outbreaks of pests and disease, and regulatory risk arising from changes to rules governing exports, such as the 2011 live export ban, were also pressures on farmers.
Ms Orr said as of June last year national rural debt was $71.7 billion and the share of rural debt held by banks had increased over the past decade from 89 per cent in 2007 to 96 per cent in 2017.
The commission decided to hold hearings in Queensland partly because Queensland had a high concentration of people impacted by agricultural finance and disaster insurance, Ms Orr said.
"The Queensland cattle industry, in particular, has confronted a number of difficult circumstance that placed many farmers under financial pressure and led to disputes with banks,''Ms Orr said.
Commissioner Kenneth Hayne, QC, opened the hearings at 10am with a lengthy address sparked by accusations that the Commission failed to conduct a full and proper investigation into the Commonweath Bank's conduct after its 2008 takeover of Bankwest.
Mr Hayne said some of the communications received by the Commission in relation to the matter appeared to stem from the premise that it was the Commission's role to advance the interests of those who describe themselves as "Bankwest victims.''
"This, or course, misunderstands the role and duty of a Royal Commissioner,' he said.
The Commission and its assistants did not carry a brief to represent any interest, but to investigate impartially matters within its terms of reference, Mr Hayne told the Commission.
There was also claims that the summons for witnesses was delivered only a short time before appearance was due, and there was not enough time for witnesses to brief lawyers, Mr Hayne said.
My Hayne said each witness knew that he or she may be called well in advance of the summons, and each had the opportunity to seek leave to obtain representation and to cross examine witnesses.
There were also concerns about witnesses' access to financial compensation related to appearances which Mr Haynes challenged.
"The commission is not aware of any instance where a consumer witness has not been able to cross examine due to lack of financial assistance.''
The hearing continues.