WHEN a Bundaberg vegetable farmer answered the phone last week there was a deep voice whispering down the line.
At first it said “you’re a f—ing dog”. Then it told the grower to watch to his back because the speaker was right behind him.
The man on the phone asked the farmer: “Where’s your wife right now?”
Now, the Bundaberg man is concerned about the welfare of his family.
The threats began after he recently revealed his story of underpayment by a Melbourne wholesaler.
“Securing my family and pursuing legal action is making it even more difficult for me to farm on top of them already stripping cash flow from my business,” the farmer said.
The grower and his father tried to take a wholesaler to court for underpayments of $263,486.17, but it went into administration in early July.
Another wholesaler company, which was established in early June, is believed to be trading at the market as a replacement.
The farmer alleges the second company was created in an attempt to dodge existing debt and is run by a former employee of the company in administration.
“They have the same people, same suppliers and I assume the same buyers,” the farmer said.
Grant Thornton administrator Matt Byrnes said it was likely the wholesaler would go into liquidation next month.
“Our number one priority is to maximise whatever we can recover for the creditors, including all the growers, and so we’re looking at the possibility of transferring or assigning the leased premises at the markets to another party, which could generate some value,” Mr Byrnes said.
“We’ve been talking to the MMA — the landlord out there at the markets — to make sure they’re going to support that and support us getting some value for the creditors.”
Another grower, who did not want to be named following the threat of legal action initiated last week, said another wholesaler — who she alleged underpaid her more than half a million dollars — had told her he was disappointed he hadn’t swindled more money from her, as he’d wanted to “buy a boat”.
“When we tried to speak with the wholesaler about getting our money paid he just laughed, told us we weren’t good farmers, and said he didn’t get to buy a boat out of this so he was disappointed too — when I am struggling to pay my bills or even buy groceries,” the Queensland-based grower said.
“He said we wasted our time coming to Melbourne for mediation because there was no more money owing.”
She attempted to take the wholesaler in question — which has three companies listed under similar names — to court over the underpayments, but was told it was “bankrupt”.
“It’s just continuing to trade under one of the other companies and made us look like fools, so we’ve had to file court documents again for one of the other companies,” the grower said.
The same grower said she was also underpaid by another Melbourne wholesaler, which went into receivership in 2014 owing her $122,000.
“The government needs to put something in place where these wholesalers cannot touch the grower’s money,” the grower said.
Melbourne Market Authority chief executive Mark Maskiell said the MMA, which runs the Melbourne Markets, did not involve itself in commercial agreements between market participants.
“The allegations from the grower regarding threats are of a very serious nature and should be referred to the police,” Mr Maskiell said.
Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford, who oversees the new Epping wholesale market as part of her portfolio, refused to comment on the matter.