Giatano (Guy) Barbera, patriarch of the Bundaberg farming family and director of Barbera Fresh. Picture: Robyne Cuerel
Giatano (Guy) Barbera, patriarch of the Bundaberg farming family and director of Barbera Fresh. Picture: Robyne Cuerel

Barbera’s blame game over alleged $11m debts

BESIEGED Bundaberg farming patriarch Giatano Barbera blames a financial backer for family-linked companies racking up alleged debts of more than $11 million.

Barbera, who is known locally as Guy, said that when funding ceased for the small crops operation a couple of years ago it financially wounded the business.

Of the 14 companies Barbera is a director, four are being pursued for some $10 million.

Among those four are Barbera Fresh which is believed to owe $5.7 million and Barbera Properties with more than $1.45 million of alleged debts.

The family property and two kids
The family property and two kids

The liquidator of Barbera Fresh, BRI Ferrier, has written to ASIC requesting funding to public examine Barbera's companies stating they had "difficulties in obtaining access to books and records".

"That's fine. I've done nothing wrong," Barbera told The Courier-Mail.

"I do not have a creditor who is not happy.

"We are in a pretty hard game and there are plenty of people who don't like us but we have never gone out there to mislead or misrepresent anyone."

Responding to creditors or litigants is something that Barbera or companies related to the family name have done for three decades.

According to Supreme Court records, since 1993 Barbera, or companies tied to the family name, have been a respondent or defendant on more than 30 occasions. Mr Barbera has been a plaintiff or applicant on more than half a dozen occasions. One is still before the courts while the remainder have been settled or withdrawn.

Guy’s son Mason, 21, was the director of Barbera Family Farms up until April 2 when his father replaced him.
Guy’s son Mason, 21, was the director of Barbera Family Farms up until April 2 when his father replaced him.

More than a dozen were filed by the Commissioner of State Revenue.

A Queensland Treasury spokesman would not comment specifically on any action the Commissioner of State Revenue has taken against Barbera-related companies. But he said the types of proceedings or legal actions brought by the Commissioner usually relate to either debt recovery of outstanding tax that include payroll tax, land tax or transfer (stamp) duty, royalty payments or repayable grants.

In addition to Barbera's companies going into liquidation, Barbera Farms, which was under the directorship of New South Wales-based Matt Maley, was wound-up on April 11 in the Supreme Court with more than $1.4 million of alleged debts.

Barbera said the assortment of companies that have been registered with the family name, that include Barbera Holdings, Barbera Bowen Properties, Barbera Fresh, Barbera Packers, Barbera Properties and Barbera Plant & Equipment and date back to the early nineties, was not unusual.

"The companies are set up for reasons, we go by our accountants … we are farmers, not legal people or accountants," he said.

"The structures are done with no malice. They are normal structures."

Barbera's daughter Courtney was the sole shareholder of Barbera Farms when it was wound-up. She was also once a director of Barbera Farms, from its inception on February 9, 2017 until July 2, 2018.

Despite being wound-up, Barbera Farms is attempting to wind-up Barbera Family Farms over a $1.1 million debts with a Supreme Court hearing set down or April 29.

Guy's son Mason, 21, was the director of Barbera Family Farms up until April 2 when his father replaced him.

"I'm not taking the fall for him. It's not his debt," Barbera said.

"He was trying to help the family out. He does not owe that money."

Courtney Barbera.
Courtney Barbera.


Picture: Mike Knott/NewsMail
Picture: Mike Knott/NewsMail

Maley is also the director of LPG#1 which has a "large secured debt", according to the liquidator for Barbera Properties, James Imray from Rodgers Reidy.

"The security relates to a guarantee given by the company for a facility agreement. I cannot confirm the amount that may currently be owing under the agreement," Mr Imray said.

Barbera said Maley was in charge of Barbera Farms when it ceased funding the operation.

"They were the funders in Barbera Fresh and the funders of Barbera Farms," Barbera told The Courier-Mail.

"They controlled Barbera Fresh … and you can ask any of the staff … they were in control of the business.

"Matt Maley made the decision not to farm anymore."

A series of questions were put to Mr Maley in relation to Barbera's claims and he denied he was at fault.

However, he declined to comment further until Barbera Farms' wind-up application against Barbera Family Farms was finalised.

Despite the alleged debts and the demise of Barbera Farms, Barbera Properties, Barbera Transport (alleged debt $800,000) and IPG (Global) ($1 million +), a smallcrops operation on Wolfenden Road, Calavos continues in earnest under M & R Farms.

Mason is the sole director of M & R Farms and has succeeded where his father has not.

Besides M & R Farms, Mason is the director of no fewer than 10 other companies that among their assets are a six bedroom house and 22ha farm.

His sister Courtney, 24, is the director of four companies.

Barbera said he is proud of his son who has built his success off the back of growing watermelons and beans from a very young age while also finding time to be an emerging Supercar racing driver.

"He's doing well and he has the full support from creditors and suppliers," Barbera said.

"We've got a fantastic business here and we employ an enormous amount of people and do a lot for the community.

"Mason has been very fortunate and he has had some success and you can make a lot of money in this game and lose it very quickly as well unfortunately."

Barbera said that when the dust settles on the liquidation of his companies he will fight back and not allow another financial backer to run the company.

"We won't ever do that again (let someone run the business). We thought it was a great decision. We thought we would have all the working capital we would ever need," he said.

""We are a proud family … and we have a good name for the food we produce."