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Sunday 24

February, 201912:44 PM

Tassie farmer: ANZ showed no compassion

Tassie farmer: ANZ showed no compassion

A former Tasmanian farmer has received an apology from the ANZ bank at the banking royal commission.

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By AAP 27.06.2018 02:43 PM

For Tasmanian farmers Michael and Dimity Hirst, the hardest part of their eight-year battle with ANZ was when their four young daughters saw the locks on their home changed.

In Mr Hirst's words, they were "belted to bits" by the banking giant after their beef and sheep farm and forestry investments hit hard times.

"We went through the process of them picking our carcass to bits," Mr Hirst recalled during an unexpected appearance at the banking royal commission.

He has no doubt the bank played a role in the family losing everything.

"They have never once, ever, shown any empathy.

"They have never shown any compassion, and they have never apologised."

The Hirsts finally received that apology on Wednesday, after their barrister questioned ANZ executive Ben Steinberg.

Mrs Hirst did not expect to ever get an apology.

"It's nice to know that it's over now, that we've been heard and that we could speak for so many people who haven't been given the opportunity to do so," she said outside the Brisbane hearing.

Mr Hirst is the only former Landmark Financial Services customer to testify at the public hearing, one of a significant number who felt they were treated unfairly after the bank bought the agribusiness loan book in 2010.

The inquiry heard the bank placed "tough" obligations on the Hirsts and increased their interest rate when they were already under financial stress.

The Hirsts say their accounts were also frozen.

ANZ wrote off the Hirsts' $4.88 million remaining debt and paid the former Landmark customers $684,000 in compensation after a former High Court judge evaluated their case.

Mr Steinberg revealed the bank has paid $40 million in relation to 40 to 50 cases involving former Landmark customers, through debt forgiveness, refunded interest or compensation.

The bank has changed how it deals with agribusiness customers, saying it now shows more empathy for farmers experiencing hard times.

Mr Steinberg conceded one reason for the cultural change was to avoid a repeat of the bad publicity that came when Landmark customers took their stories to the media.

"I wouldn't hide from the fact that as a bank we don't want negative publicity, and we try and do everything we can to avoid it."

Mr Steinberg defended ANZ's actions with former Landmark customers Stephen and Janine Harley, who lost their century-old West Australian sheep farm.

"I agree the story is a sad one but nonetheless, what we were doing here is pursuing our contractual rights to get paid, managing money that belongs to our depositors," he said.

"And whilst it's a very sad list of events to read out and to listen to, I think the community would expect us to do whatever we can to recover the money that's owed."

The inquiry heard ANZ forced the Harleys to sell their sheep, farm and home then threatened them with bankruptcy if they didn't come up with $300,000 within eight days.

The couple sold five of their nine properties before ANZ appointed agents to sell the remaining lots for $570,000 less than their value.

In February ANZ told the Harleys it would not pursue their remaining debt, three years after rejecting their request to do just that.

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