Sean’s shout

• Dogged determination has finally got Sean Butler an ASIC inquiry into his battle with Bankwest and its receivers, which he says cost him the National Hotel. Photo by Steve Grant.

Hanson helps secure ASIC inquiry into The Nash

IT’S taken him seven years, but former publican Sean Butler has finally got the country’s corporate regulator to look into how he lost the National Hotel in Fremantle.

At a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on October 23, Australian small business and family enterprise ombudsman Kate Carnell told Mr Butler’s old boss, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson, that she’d referred his case to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Back in 2012 Bankwest put Mr Butler’s company into receivership after devaluing the Nash and a Bunbury hotel, which created a technical default on his loans and sparked 18.8 per cent penalty rates and a demand for a  $200,000 “risk fee”. Previously the hotels had been operating profitably and Mr Butler had never missed a loan payment.

The businessman tried to launch a rescue bid with former AFL star John Ahern, but that was derailed by the bank’s receivers Taylor Woodings, which according to a recent report by Ms Carnell’s department had “arguably breached” Australia’s Corporations Law along the way (“Report on National saga slams receivers,” Herald, June 1, 2019).

Not long after delivering the final report on Mr Butler’s case, Ms Carnell announced an inquiry into Australia’s insolvency system, which will be chaired by former Nationals senator John Williams. He’s a significant appointment, as it was only through his dogged determination that Australia finally got its recent Royal Commission into the banking sector.

Ms Carnell told Ms Hanson her department had wanted liquidators, administrators and receivers to be roped into the banking royal commission in the first place.

“What we need to do is have a look at what the practices are in this space, how expensive they are, how transparent they are – at the moment we’d suggest not very transparent for small business, for farmers, for people on properties and so on,” Ms Carnell said.

In their exchange, Ms Hanson complained that US-based receiver, FTI Consulting, had bought up Taylor Woodings – along with a host of other smaller Aussie liquidators – and then left businesspeople like Mr Butler high and dry.

“So they bought up the business, then they went into mediation, and then they said ‘sorry, it’s not our responsibility’,” Ms Hanson said of the Nash case, which she estimated had cost Mr Butler $17 million.

“FTI Consulting, in that mediation, offered initially $25,000; then they increased it to $50,000, and then came back to another.

“Will your inquiry investigate this behaviour of multinational companies coming out here, buying up liquidators and these firms, and then claiming no responsibility?”

Ms Carnell said the inquiry would “certainly have a look at that”.

by STEVE GRANT

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