Former Tasmanian cattle and lamb farmer Michael Hirst has accused ANZ Banking Group of never showing empathy or compassion in its dealings with his family.
In an emotional session during the banking royal commission's hearings on agricultural loans, Mr Hirst, a former Landmark customer, denounced ANZ's behaviour and said his family had been "belted to bits".
"They have never once ever shown any empathy, they have never shown any compassion and they have never apologised, and where I'm from, where I'm from, if you do something wrong, there's nothing wrong with apologising," Mr Hirst told the commission. "But these guys refuse to."
Mr Hirst said his family had dealt with the fall-out with ANZ for eight years.
"We've got four beautiful girls and, and we're dealing with all this stuff, you know, for what is it, eight years now?" he said.
Mr Hirst. who in 2006 began investing in the forestry industry in Tasmania, said in early 2011 an ANZ staffer took him out to a "decent restaurant in our local town". The banker told him "we're a very good business and we want to see more of you, and basically pumped us up", he said.
In August, the bank offered to increase the Hirsts' loans, but by late 2011 Mr Hirst said he was told to "put the cheque book away".
ANZ has admitted its conduct in relation to the Hirsts between 2011 and 2013 fell below community standards and expectations. ANZ raised the interest rate of Mr Hirst and his wife Dimity's account when they were known to be in financial stress, increasing pressure on the family.
It never told the family it disapproved of their property investment model, and obtained updated valuations of the Hirsts' properties without providing them to the family.
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While it was not compulsory to do farm debt mediation in Tasmania at the time, ANZ's head of lending services Benjamin Steinberg has conceded the bank should have engaged in mediation with the Hirsts at an early stage, and before they settled their debt.
The settlement of the debt provided for a sale of all the Hirsts' properties by ANZ, a release of all claims by the Hirsts and an agreement by the Hirsts to default judgment in favour of ANZ for the balance of the debt, which Mr Steinberg admitted was "tough".
After an offer to participate in an independent evaluation of their case in 2015, ANZ paid the Hirsts $684,000 in early 2017 after a protracted negotiation. The Hirsts are no longer in farming. They were the first victims appearing at the banking royal commission to have their lawyer cross-examine a banker.
The Hirsts’ lawyer Lachlan Molesworth asked Mr Steinberg why there was a reluctance for the banks to acknowledge wrongdoing.
"Why is it so difficult for the bank to come out and say, 'We got it wrong'?" Mr Molesworth asked.
"Do you think it is important for victims, and do you think the community expects an apology to be provided to, by banks, when wrongdoing has occurred?
"Are you aware that after five years of the Hirsts being left financially destitute ... the bank to this day has never apologised to them?"
Mr Steinberg said he did not deal with the Hirsts' matter, so he didn't know whether an apology was made.
"May I take that opportunity now to offer the Hirsts that apology," he said.
Outside the royal commission, Mrs Hirst said she never thought she would see this day, or receive an apology.
"It's nice to know that it's over now and that we've been heard and that we could speak for the so many thousands of people who haven't been given the opportunity to do so," she said.
"We just hope and pray that now people can have opportunities that weren't given to us to be able to get help and get advice and that this doesn't ever happen again."
Mrs Hirst said the effect on the couple's children had been "overwhelming".
"I think for us that's been the hardest thing, what they've had to cope with, how they've had to see us, that when they came to change the locks on the house - that is something that young children should never ever have to go through," she said.
Mr Hirst criticised the ANZ internal target to "churn" debts out of its high-risk lending services division in as little as 18 months.
"The young gun coming up, he's going to stick to that, don't worry about that, because that's the only way he'll go up the ladder, he's not going to go up the ladder if he draws it out for 48 months.”