16 September 2019

I second the motion. I'm really pleased to rise today to speak to the motion, which I have now seconded, put forward by the member for Canning. This is the second time in a couple of sittings that I have risen in this place on behalf of the victims impacted by the scandalous Sterling First episode. This is a scandal that continues to engulf people right across the country, but in particular there are a number of Western Australians from my electorate of Brand and in the neighbouring electorate of Canning caught up in its devastating effects. I've received correspondence from victims telling me their stories and what they've lost—in some cases, over $200,000. That was money that was meant to be used to fund the well-earned retirements of ageing Australians in my electorate and that of the member for Canning. I acknowledge the words and sentiment of the member for Canning in moving this motion, and what he's just said. I fully support his words in that regard. It's an outrageous scandal, a rip-off, that has been put upon vulnerable Western Australians and others.

It's been reported that former administrators, and now the liquidator, KPMG, are attempting to get a return from all those assets that might be sold. But, of course, their first legal responsibility is to the creditors and not to the retirees, who are the most affected. These are the retirees who are least likely to have other options in retirement as they face the prospect of losing their life savings. For some, it's not only the prospect; this has actually now happened. As the member for Canning pointed out, these people are embarrassed and they can hardly believe what has happened to them. Quite frankly, as an outside observer that is now trying to speak on their behalf, I'm amazed at what has happened. It's horrible that we are in this position at all. It's greedy and predatory behaviour by the Sterling First Group that has resulted in mental and financial stress on a scale that we've seldom seen. It's a complicated, complex, long-term rental scheme. As I said earlier, it has preyed upon vulnerable people, ageing Australians, who are thinking that they are investing in something that might give them a better future. In fact, greed and the art of the con artist have come to the fore and ripped these people off.

I join with the member for Canning in condemning the Sterling First Group for the deceptive con man tactics that they've used to prey upon vulnerable seniors. In an attempt to give voice to the victims in my electorate, I addressed a letter to the government earlier this year urging greater recognition, support and action on behalf of these victims. I'm really pleased to see that the Department of Social Services has introduced a dedicated officer to oversee Centrelink clients affected by this awful scam. I urge all individuals in this position to make sure they get an interview with Centrelink staff. They do good things; I know they're under pressure as well in their work. I commend the Centrelink staff who are seeking to help the victims of the Sterling First Group.

I would also encourage all victims to make a submission to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority to investigate the dealings of the group. Make your voices heard. Make sure your case is recorded and investigated properly. Each personal circumstance is different, and each victim should be heard. The company is in administration, as I said earlier, and ASIC has commenced investigations into their activities. Of course, we all look forward to seeing what that finds. Of course, it is too late for many of the victims of the Sterling First scam.

I'm glad the government has strengthened the role of ASIC with a $400 million funding boost that will increase its regulatory powers that will allow it to intervene in the distribution of a product where there is a perceived and significant consumer detriment. It's a positive step forward in the wake of the banking royal commission. I'm sure it does not provide much comfort to the victims of Sterling First and victims of other scams, but, nonetheless, it is an important step in making sure dodgy financial products are stopped at the start and don't go on to the market.

It's unacceptable what we're seeing here today for these people in Australia, but particularly in Canning and in Brand. It's unacceptable that ASIC weren't able to stop this sooner, and it's unacceptable that victims have lost everything. Some have lost their homes. Some are on the brink of losing their homes. As the member for Canning has said, they are relying on the generosity of their families and others and find themselves in a really desperate and unimaginable position.

I know those affected are frustrated at the seeming lack of action or interest in their plight. I acknowledge that it will be difficult to pursue compensation for their losses, and terrible situations like this demonstrate how important it is to have strong laws to prevent rip-off artists foisting dodgy financial products on unsuspecting and vulnerable consumers.