YOUp to 100 Aboriginal residents in Toowoomba could be left without adequate housing in the coming months, after a private company had recently left millions of dollars in mortgages against their homes.
At the end of last year, tenants of 37 homes in the Toowoomba suburb were informed that they had to leave in May. The properties, in some cases houses that have been inhabited by the same family for more than 35 years, would be sold among them within a few weeks.
"The families are broken," says Patricia Conlon, a traditional Wakka Wakka owner of the Darling Downs region, who advocates tenants.
"I spoke last 20 tenants with about 20 tenants and they were all just in tears. They are desperate, do not know who to turn to or what they should do. & # 39;
The properties were valued collectively at around $ 6.2 million and went under fire in a fire sale on Saturday February 2 to recover about $ 4 million in mortgage loans contracted by a man named Geoffrey John Hirning.
The circumstances surrounding Hirning's acquisition of property are currently being investigated by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (Asic) and the Toowoomba police are inquiring, but some residents have already packed up and left.
For tenants who refuse to give up their homes, this week's confirmation of Asic's investigation and the aroused interest of the Queensland police is a small consolation, but it is also accompanied by the realization that none of the roads seem capable of to immediately stop one of the ownership arrangements.
In fact, a member of the task force has been formed by affected tenants and their allies who were claimed early this week. They had been informed that some of those ownership agreements had already been completed on Monday, five weeks after the auction.
A prominent Sydney-based lawyer has said that a thorough investigation must be carried out into the transfer of the homes to Downs Housing's private company – Hirning – in 2016 from a controversial Aboriginal non-profit organization run by a local board Aboriginal. members of the community. That company was named Downs Aborigines and Islanders Company (Daic).
Before selling the property in February, Stewart Levitt, a senior partner at Levitt Robinson Solicitors, told the task force that there was a question mark about the fairness of the transfer of the property and that Asic or the Queensland government should " as a matter of urgency ", approach the competent court to freeze a sale.
"The assets must be kept and the right of the mortgage holder to proceed must be immediately subject to a restraining order," he said at the time.
An important question mark concerns the status of the document under which the houses were transferred, which bore the ignorant signatures of the two Daic board members who took their name and brand on the transfer documentation. Another is whether that particular document should have been registered.
One of those two signatories to Daic was Les Suey. In a February 13 interview with the local Toowoomba newspaper The Chronicle, Suey said Hirning approached the struggling Daic in 2015 with an offer from a joint venture that would alleviate some of the financial problems of the non-profit organization. The proposed Hirning company included the redevelopment of some of Daic's properties with part of all future profits going back to the two entities.
"The board has decided to enter the joint venture based on the expectation that it would ensure Daic's viability and growth," Suey told the Chronicle.
"It was thought that this was an opportunity for Daic to increase his housing supply in the longer term, to be financially secure and to offer a better level of housing for our people. One aspect of the joint venture was that management was in the hands of the developer. "
But according to Suey, the redevelopments never started and no profits were ever delivered to Daic.
Documentation provided to NITV News shows that the Downs Housing Company was registered eight months before the transfer by William "Bill" Redmond, the owner and director of the law practice, Redmond + Redmond Lawyers. On August 14, 2015 – the date of registration of the company – Hirning's place of business was listed at the same address as the law firm.
In December, Redmond was replaced by Hirning, the only director and secretary of the Downs Housing Company. In March 2016, Hirning also became the sole shareholder of the company.
Documentation relating to Hirning's business transactions reveal a conviction for fraud in an unrelated case in 2002, for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison. In April 2009, Hirning was declared bankrupt by Bambank Pty Ltd, which acted as a company, Shipstone Accident Repair Specialists, a car repair shop in downtown Brisbane.
On April 28, 2016 – about eight months after Hirning became the sole manager and shareholder of Downs Housing Company – 37 properties with a value of more than $ 6.2 million were transferred to him by Daic.
Eighteen months later, Hirning had filed a creditors petition against him and shortly thereafter began taking multiple mortgage loans on the properties through his company that would total more than $ 5 million. The last mortgage – for a total of $ 62,480 against all 37 properties – was taken out on October 19, 2018. The petition of the creditors, which is a legal document filed against someone for money, was later rejected.
Documentation shows that the interest rates for the loans amount to 72% per year, the majority being 48% and 52%. Daic was deregistered on January 6.
Hirning has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
During the 12-month mortgage blitz of Hirning, the tenants continued to pay their rent. A handwritten letter to a single address of lawyers who acted for mortgage holders on January 24 suggests that these payments were not passed on to alleviate Hirning's debts.
"As a result of the registered owner's notice of default, our client has the right to enter the property, to recover rent and profit and / or to evacuate the residents (if he so wishes) and to sell the property," according to the notification.
"Please note that our client does not acknowledge any interest that you as a tenant of the property or otherwise may have and we confirm that our client has not agreed to any lease or lease to you or anyone else.
"If you fail to cooperate with our customer's sales agent and allow access to the property, steps will be taken to restore the vacant property of the property without further notice to you."
Before 36 of the properties at the auction were sold in February, the radical task force submitted a number of agencies for emergency assistance to prevent the loss of their homes. One was the National Congress of the First Peoples of Australia, whose director, Gary Oliver, proposed to the federal government to purchase the properties and turn them into social housing.
A spokesman for the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said the responsibility lay with the Queensland government.
The Queensland Government's Housing Minister, Mick de Brenni, concluded the purchase of real estate and claimed that it was not "the right move" because it "did not take into account the individual needs of families".
Elsewhere, Asic initially claimed that the matter fell outside of its jurisdiction because of the federal government funding involved in establishing Daic as a non-profit organization to provide secure housing to the indigenous community of Toowoomba in 1983.
The Australian charities and the not-for-profit organization (ACNC) said that the matter fell outside of its jurisdiction after Daic's charity registration was withdrawn in 2017.
Last Friday, the Queensland Greens member wrote for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, to the local police command of Toowoomba and the state's police commissioner, Ian Stewart, to request a "powerful" investigation into the case.
"The tenants dispute the legality of this transfer on the basis that a general meeting of the former company (Downs Aborigines and Islanders Company) was not held," the member wrote for Maiwar.
"In the next two years, the properties were mortgaged to a range of investors. Tenants continued to pay their rent, but the loans were never repaid
"The circumstances of the auction are also suspicious, since all 37 properties were sold in one day, with a very short marketing campaign."
In the meantime, about 10 families have already left their homes and the Housing Department of Queensland says it is working with the affected residents to find alternative forms of living. An early option, led by government officials and Indigenous Business Australia, was an offer to facilitate home loan applications.
James Boney, a former Daic board member who could now lose his house, said on Thursday that the community task force was re-registering the non-profit organization. It is their opinion that this would give them access to company documents that are now in the possession of Asic and that can provide clarity on the issue. Boney said the group also hoped it would help freeze the assets.
He said that the remaining residents were shattered and exhausted, but would not give up the struggle to keep their homes.
"We are willing to sit in someone's office where we need to be," he said. "We have nothing to lose."
Additional reporting by Michael Carey, Ella Archibald-Binge and Keira Jenkins
This story was produced in collaboration with NITV