Fighting for Trio Capital Victims (27/07/2011)

sj_and_sb.jpgJust this morning, the member for Cunningham and I sat in a room with a number of victims of the collapse of Trio Capital and, not for the first time, I heard some of the stories of personal devastation that lie behind this shocking event. Typical of what has happened was the story of Barbara, who worked as a machinist in King Gee in Bellambi—a suburb in the electorate of Cunningham—all her life and has now all but lost her house as well as her superannuation savings.

I heard the story of Norm, who is at the end of his working career and has lost all his savings and more and how this has had a devastating impact on his health and that of his wife. I was also moved, as was the member for Cunningham, by the story of Tracey, who worked at Tarrants from 2008 to 2009 and witnessed firsthand the tactics of the principal of that firm as he pushed unsuspecting clients into investments that they did not understand, without any due diligence on his part, it would appear. Tracey is still personally distressed by the stories of financial loss that she knows only too well. She can put faces to the names of the victims of Ross Tarrant, like her neighbour's parents, who lost $1.2 million and now, aged in their 60s, have a mortgage on their house and rent out rooms to earn some income to pay that debt.

There is no doubt that, even before Trio collapsed, there was deep concern about the apparently reckless and negligent advice that was being given by Tarrants. The Illawarra has been hard hit by the collapse of Trio Capital.

Some estimates are that total losses of savings amount to around $40 million to $45 million in the Illawarra alone. I have the greatest compassion for those good folk who have lost their life savings through their investments in the Trio-Astarra investment funds. These people, hardworking and honest, thought they were doing everything right. They were not looking for a quick buck—they were not white shoe brigade—they were simply looking to put aside savings for their retirement. They did everything by the book. They followed the rules set out by ASIC—indeed, they ticked all the boxes in ASIC's advice to investors. It would appear that the biggest mistake these people made was to put their trust in the local financial advice of Tarrants.

I can do no better than to refer to an article that was published earlier this year in the Sydney Morning Herald on this subject, in which the journalist Mr Stuart Washington describes Ross Tarrant as a clown, with zero credibility, who is now muddying the waters for super investors. This article recounts how Mr Tarrant received in excess of $840,000 in commissions from Trio-Astarra for putting these local investors into Trio. There are many financial planners who did look at the Trio-Astarra investment funds and believed that they did not stack up. They knew that something quite simply did not add up and that, if something looks too good to be true, as the cliche goes, it probably is too good to be true. They did not encourage their clients to invest in Trio. The same cannot be said for Tarrants. Not only that, but Ross Tarrant has also charged investors for putting them into this fund. He received 3.3 per cent for each investment and 1.95 per cent in annual fees for the advice he gave these clients. When you think about those losses of $40 million locally and the fees of 3.3 per cent he charged, as well as his secret commissions from Trio-Astarra, it is a bit rich for Mr Tarrant to be claiming, as he has in emails to his clients, that he is actually the victim in this affair. By all accounts Ross Tarrant is still taking the good people of the Illawarra for a ride in this affair. He is still out there trying to shift the blame, claiming that everyone else is responsible for what has happened and pretending that he is a friend of those who have lost everything.

I am aware of an email by Mr Tarrant in circulation claiming that I am somehow uninterested in the plight of the victims of Trio-Astarra and, indeed, the victims of Mr Tarrant himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, with the member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, I made numerous representations to the minister. In regard to the situation of investors in self-managed superannuation funds who did not receive compensation because they were not invested in APRA managed funds, I know that the minister is taking the matter very seriously and exploring all available options.

There is no doubt that Mr Tarrant is desperately trying to salvage some sort of reputation out of the devastation that he and others like him have caused to the poor victims of this terrible affair. It is simply not good enough for him to be sheeting the blame home to others in defamatory emails that he seems to be sending around the electorate. It is sad that some people may be taken in by this duplicity.

But I am also pleased to say that there are people within the Illawarra region who are standing foursquare behind the people involved in this sting and doing what they can to look after them. I single out for credit Mr Mark McDonald, a principal in a local law firm, who has been acting on a pro bono basis to represent the interests of these investors. The local newspaper, the Illawarra Mercury, has done an outstanding job of putting a spotlight on the very grubby affairs that have gone on in this whole collapse. I pay them credit for good public interest journalism in putting a spotlight on this affair.

Let us hope that at the end of the investigation we are able not only to provide some justice to the victims of this terrible affair but to ensure that it does not happen again.

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