By James Atkinson
Publicans across Australia have detailed the financial ruin and distress they claim they have suffered at the hands of Bankwest, as a Federal Senate inquiry into the banking sector gets underway in Canberra.
At least ten publicans, a number of which owned multiple venues, were among the more than 150 stakeholders that have made written submissions to the Senate inquiry into the post-GFC banking sector, which is holding public hearings between now and Friday.
Several other publicans will be represented at the hearings by Geoff Shannon of activist group Unhappy Banking, which is as of this week assisting Tony Townsend, owner of Sydney's Sandringham Hotel, now in receivership.
Shannon will give evidence at Friday's hearing on behalf of close to 500 businesses who are fighting what they claim is unconscionable conduct by Bankwest, which dramatically overhauled its risk and lending practice after being taken over by the Commonwealth Bank.
Former publican Paul French, who featured on the ABC's Four Corners program in April, will address the hearings on Friday to discuss his experiences after Bankwest loaned him $1.35 million to purchase the freehold of Cobar's Grand Hotel in central western New South Wales.
Despite never having missed an interest payment on a loan that was supposed to run for a 20-year period, French claims Bankwest is now pursuing him for $650,000 after prematurely calling in receivers, who sold the pub for just $700,000 – little more than the value of the nine poker machine entitlements that were included with the asset.
Bankwest "accountable to no-one"
In a written submission to the inquiry, Sean Butler, formerly of the National Hotel in Fremantle, Western Australia, claims Bankwest's appointed receivers Taylor Woodings sold his pub for $3.6 million when they had previously rejected an offer of $4.5 million.
"It appears Bankwest and their receivers are in a position where they can do what they like, charge whatever they want, keep the customer in the dark as to what's going on and worst of all be accountable to no-one," Butler says.
Butler will address the Senate hearings in person at 4pm today.
Other publicans who have made written submissions to the Inquiry include Victor Seeto of Sydney's AB Hotel in Glebe, Graham Hyde, formerly of the Palace Hotel in Warwick, Queensland, Diane and Max Lock of the Naracoorte Hotel Motel in South Australia, and Ralph Binks, whose company Allied Hospitality owned several venues in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Binks says Bankwest appointed receivers on his venues two days before the settlement day for refinancing he had negotiated with Westpac.
"I feel that Bankwest's actions were complete unjustified considering our good history with them and the fact that they were fully aware that refinancing had been approved by Westpac," he says.
Another unidentified publican who was loaned $3.24 million to acquire a second pub in St George, Queensland, says he met his obligations to Bankwest by never being late with a payment.
"Bankwest seem determined to put me into receivership now by charging me default interest, which no business can sustain for any length of time."
Bankwest rejects publicans' claims
A Bankwest spokesperson said in a statement that the bank's overall customer satisfaction levels are high "and have continued to rise since the period of the Global Financial Crisis".
"We maintain that the cause of the difficulties experienced by a limited number of customers arose from a combination of economic factors and was not as a result of any inappropriate actions of the bank," the spokesperson said.
The Senate hearings start today August 8 in Canberra, and will continue in Sydney on Thursday and Friday.