Straight Shooter aiming for justice

Straight shooter aiming for justice

Date
July 20,  2013
  • (1 alt=”John “Wacka” Williams on his NSW property.” src=”http://images.theage.com.au/2013/07/19/4584357/HP_John_with_dog_wide-20130719184419958480-620×349.jpg” />John “Wacka” Williams on his NSW property. Photo: Nancy  Capel

For  straight-talking Nationals senator John ”Wacka” Williams, helping  Aussie battlers is part of his DNA. After spending most of his life living and  working on farms – as a shearer, a truck driver and pig farmer – he knows all  too well about hard work and how difficult it can be to earn a crust … and the  importance of having a voice.

It is the reason he went into politics  in 2007 and it is the key motivator  behind his decision to go after the supermarket giants over their treatment of  the dairy industry in the $1-a-litre milk price war, the push to stop foreigners  buying Australian farms, the fee gougers in the insolvency industry, and  white-collar crime.

His latest spat is with   regulator the Australian Securities and Investments  Commission over its slowness to act in the Commonwealth Bank financial planning  scandal, which resulted in many retirees losing their life savings.

As revealed by BusinessDay last month, this was despite a group of  whistleblowers informing ASIC of what was going on 16 months before it finally  acted.

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Williams said when he heard about the case and how the clients of financial  planner Don Nguyen poured through the doors in a panic about their loss of  income – some on walking frames, others with heart conditions, emphysema and  dementia – and ASIC did nothing, he saw red.

Nguyen managed about $300 million in retirement savings from 1300 clients,  created unauthorised investment accounts, overcharged fees, and put them into  inappropriate investments, which destroyed most of their retirement savings.  After he left the bank there was a cover-up that included falsification of  documents in an apparent attempt to limit compensation amounts. ASIC banned him  for seven years and the bank accepted a two-year enforceable undertaking.

All up, seven planners were banned from the bank and almost $50 million paid  in compensation.

”It gets my blood boiling just thinking about it,” Williams said. ”It is  why I called for a Senate inquiry because I think weak regulation is worse than  no regulation, and I want to know why ASIC isn’t doing a better job.

”Do they need more money? Do they have the right people running it? Is the  structure right? Does the legislation need to change to give them more powers? I  don’t know the answers, but I will be asking the hard questions during the  inquiry.”

The inquiry has called for submissions from the public, with a cut-off date  of October 17. Hearings and witnesses will be called in November and early 2014,  followed by a set of recommendations by the end of March.

”I want this inquiry to be successful, so it is up to the public to send in  submissions,” Williams said. ”I have heard a lot of complaints over the years  about ASIC; now it is time for people to put it in a submission so we can  properly examine the regulator’s performance.”

It has caused him also to question the role of vertical integration in the  financial services sector and whether the new legislation goes far enough.  ”Years ago, robbers robbed with a pistol. Now, they rob with a Biro. I want a  good active watchdog the public can feel confident about.”

Williams says his overriding motive for going into politics was to make a  difference. He won a scholarship to university, but after three months rang his  mother and asked to come home to help run the farm, before later setting off to  become a shearer, where he learnt a lot in the school of hard knocks. Anyone who  knows him says he is a straight shooter, a man of the people, and whom has a  heart as big as an ox – unless you are on the wrong side of him.

”I won’t take crap. I’m here to do a job and that’s to look after the  battler. They work hard in their life to save money and get a nest egg together,  and I want to make sure that is protected,” he says. ”When I think that we  have $1.5 trillion in retirement savings and I see it can be taken away by  crooked financial planners and we have a regulator looking on, I get hopping  mad.”

He might have left the toil and noise of the buzzing blades of his sheep  shearing days, but the country is still inside him. When he is not in Canberra,  bustling  about, he can be found sitting on his tractor on his 160-hectare sheep  and cattle farm 13 kilometres out of  Inverell in NSW, where he lives with his  wife, Nancy, who runs the local Bingara newspaper.

”When I didn’t have a farm I used to go home and mow the lawn. I would put  in ear plugs and shut everything out,” he says. ”It gives me a chance to think  and get my ideas. There is nothing quite like driving out in the morning and  seeing the ewes happy and content with plenty of feed, peace and quiet, and  ready to lamb.”

But it won’t be long before he is back in Canberra either, playing a role in  the new government if the Coalition wins, or raising his voice for those who  can’t be heard.

Submissions to the Senate inquiry can be made at

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/business/straight-shooter-aiming-for-justice-20130719-2q9wr.html#ixzz2a1UqqR98

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