The High Court unanimously dismissed an appeal from the Victorian Court of Appeal in relation whether the assets of an insolvent corporate trustee should be distributed to employees or trade creditors. It held that the priority regime contained in s 433 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) applied to the trustee of a trading trust, and thus employees had priority.
Facts and history
Amerind Pty Ltd (“Amerind”) was the trustee for a trading trust, the Panel Veneer Processes Trading Trust, and traded solely in that capacity. The Bendigo and Adelaide Bank (“the Bank”) appointed receivers (“the Receivers”) after Amerind defaulted on bank facilities on the same day that the sole director of Amerind appointed Administrators. The Bank were the holders of a “circulating security interest” registered under the Personal Property Securities Act.
After the creditors resolved that Amerind be wound up in insolvency, the Administrators were appointed as joint and several liquidators of Amerind. By this time, the Receivers had realised most of Amerind’s assets and were in a position to retire. After all of the Bank’s secured debt had been discharged, the Receivers had a receivership surplus of $1,619,018. Two competing parties sought to access that surplus before the High Court:
- Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts Australia Pty Ltd (“Carter Holt”), a trade creditor; and
- The Commonwealth of Australia (in the shoes of employees).