RSM BIRD Cameron has hit back at claims over a recent farm foreclosure procedure, saying its representatives were “at all times professional”.
Two receivers from RSM Bird Cameron were forced to call for police backup after their vehicle was “impounded” against their will – and has since not been recovered - during an altercation involving members of the Rural Action Movement on Friday, March 13 at a Cuballing farm.
The incident in Western Australia's south-west wheatbelt prompted a warning from Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon about escalating stress levels in farming communities, as banks sought to recover debt.
At a hearing into a proposed an Australian Reconstruction and Development Board in Canberra this month, Senator Xenophon highlighted a point made by Dr Mark McGovern from Queensland University of Technology’s School of Economics and Finance that “there are systemic issues in respect of rural debt”.
“We are aware, through the evidence given today, that there is more and more stress in the sector,” he said.
“It is pretty ugly. There are some pretty desperate people out there.
“I am obviously not condoning any unlawful activity (but) the situation is so desperate that recently police had to be called because receivers had had their car impounded by some pretty angry farmers.
“It is getting incredibly heated out there.”
As reported by Fairfax Media, the receivers visited Bruce Dixon's sheep and grain property in Cuballing the day after he defaulted on his multi-million dollar loan with the ANZ bank.
Mr Dixon claimed he was called by RSM Bird Cameron on the day - but assumed they were accountants who wanted to commence preliminary talks about the farm changeover.
However, he said he was “taken back” when the receivers told him ANZ had already taken possession of his farm and then started discussing a timeline for him to exit the property.
“They said they’d already organised a locksmith to change the locks and wanted me to take them around the property to take photographs of machinery and other items for my protection – but then they made some veiled threats,” he said.
“They said they could call in the Tactical Response Unit if I resisted moving, just to put the frighteners on me, which did have that effect.”
Mr Dixon said the receivers also claimed they had a court order to remove him from the property – but they failed to provide paperwork to prove that claim.
He said they parked their vehicle inside the property and while inside the farmhouse holding talks, “someone decided to build a haystack” around their car, blocking its exit.
He said the two receivers then waited on the road verge and called the police resulting in seven armed officers in two police vans and an unmarked vehicle arriving from Narrogin and Williams.
But after declining to comment at the time, RSM moved to clarify claims made over the incident which caused Narrogin Police to start investigating offences of stealing and damage.
A statement to Fairfax Media from RSM said they were appointed as Agent for the Mortgagee in Possession but for such an appointment, no court order or warrant is required for RSM Bird Cameron to visit the property.
“We understand the bank has been working with Mr Dixon over the past four years to remedy his financial difficulties,” the statement said.
“A conciliation was held in 2014 with an agreement reached by all parties in good faith, and the bank providing further concessions.
“This agreement was not upheld and the bank provided further time for Mr Dixon to rectify his situation.
“With the situation remaining unremedied, the bank was left with little alternative, hence RSM Bird Cameron's appointment.”
RSM Bird Cameron said a telephone discussion with Mr Dixon was held at 9.16am on Friday March 13 resulting in an invitation to the property to meet with him at 11am that day.
“The purpose of this meeting was to inform Mr Dixon personally of RSM Bird Cameron’s appointment, to discuss obtaining vacant possession of the properties, to seek his cooperation in giving vacant possession and to discuss a possible timeline for that to occur in an orderly fashion,” the statement said.
“Mr Dixon was advised that without vacant possession a Court Order would be necessary to move forward.
“As enforcement action is typically a last resort for the bank, seeking voluntary vacant possession was the preferred option.
“RSM Bird Cameron representatives left the property on foot immediately upon being asked to leave.
“They were unable to take their hire car as access to the vehicle had been blocked.
“Upon leaving the property the RSM Bird Cameron representatives called the police to report the vehicle circumstances. The police kindly offered the representatives a lift back to Narrogin given the hire vehicle could not be removed from the property.
“RSM Bird Cameron’s conduct at all times was and will continue to be professional.”
Mr Dixon said he defaulted on his farm loan last August but was given an extension until March 12 to make further payments. He said on August 2 last year the farm’s debt was valued at $4.2 million but by March 12 it had increased $500,000 to $4.7m.
RAM president Greg Kenny - who dumped 7 tonnes of grain outside WA Premier Colin Barnett’s office in May 2013 when he protest the State government’s rural assistance package - and Williams farmer Rodney Culleton, both claimed to be present during the incident on Mr Dixon’s farm last week.
Mr Kenny said the RAM members were “just trying to expose the thuggery of ANZ”.
“A federal Senate inquiry would be a good start or a Royal Commission, but we definitely need some type of forum where people can go in and give evidence without any fear of recrimination,” he said.
ANZ said it has been working closely with the Dixons since 2011 and during this time has provided them with ongoing support, including restructuring their facilities.
“We have also actively tried to engage with the customer on a number of occasions through mediation, where a mutually agreed outcome had been reached in 2014,” a statement said.
“Taking possession of a farm is always the last option after all other avenues, including mediation, have been exhausted and we work with customers over several years to try and resolve their financial situation.”