Rural debt stoush heads north

04 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
The people must state their demands clearly to and forcefully to the government
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

AMID calls for a moratorium on banks foreclosing on struggling farms, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and outspoken radio host Alan Jones will attend a rural debt crisis meeting in Queensland this week.

The meeting at Winton on Friday will also be attended by Queensland independent MP Bob Katter and other political figures and farming representatives.

Mr Katter said the meeting would not be designed for the politicians to “shoot their mouths off” but for “the people to have their say to the Australian nation”.

“The people must state their demands clearly to and forcefully to the government,” he said.

Mr Katter has also continued his push to establish the Australian Reconstruction and Development Board, to take-over stressed farm loans at a discounted rate of 25 to 30 per cent.

However, the government has rejected the proposal in the first draft of its Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper released in late October.

Chinese are at the gate: Jones

Mr Jones spoke to Mr Joyce about the persisting rural debt crisis in a typically fiery interview last week on 2GB Radio in Sydney, riddled with demands for action.

“Farmers don’t want handouts they want someone to stop foreclosures and of course when the banks foreclose they then sell the farm to someone and the Chinese are waiting at the gate,” Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones described the Nationals deputy-leader as “a class act” who fights with one hand behind his back “in a government that would rather give money to some environmental outfit or to foreign aid, than to help farmers”.

“You’re the best retail politician in the business,” he said in demanding to know what the minister was doing about bank foreclosures on drought stricken farmers.

Mr Joyce said: “No matter what we do, it’ll never be enough, we’ve got to do more”.

“It is at the forefront of my mind,” he said.

“The first thing I did when I came to the ministry was fight for a drought package.”

Farmers don't want handout: Joyce

Mr Joyce said he spoke to “senior operatives” recently to seek more drought assistance funding, with an announcement expected imminently.

He also spoke about the rural debt roundtable meeting he held with banks, the National Farmers Federation and his department in Canberra recently, where the issue of bank foreclosures was “on the table”.

Mr Joyce said he told the meeting: “I don’t want to have to come into this space but if the heat gets too high, and the pressure gets too much, I will, and you won’t like it”.

Mr Joyce also provided figures which said the foreclosure situation was “not catastrophic but not good”.

He said currently in northern Queensland 18 farms are in debt mediation with their banks, 10 are in foreclosures and overall about 3.1pc are 90 days in arrears.

Mr Jones said the government underwrote banks during the Global Financial Crisis and now had a chance to underwrite farmers who “don’t want a handout” and would repay the loans when the drought breaks.

Mr Joyce said he issued a similar message to banks at the rural debt roundtable meeting, saying they were guaranteed $880 billion in the GFC.

Battlers and bastards

Mr Jones described the situation as “absolute bastardy” with battling farmers unable to provide food to feed dying stock.

“Bob Katter told me that there are 5000 to 10,000 cattle dying daily,” he said.

“I mean what does the nation say to families who can’t pay for animal fodder; what does the nation say to the farmer who can’t pay to truck his water; what does the nation say to the farmer who can’t pay the bank overdraft; what does the nation say about the thousands and thousands of cattle that are dying of starvation?

“Well I’ll tell you what the banks say, 'we’ll foreclose and the Chinese (will buy the farms)'.

“When the drought does break and the rain is there who’ll own the farms?”

Mr Joyce agreed he wanted the Australian farm to be owned by the Australian family.

“Mums and dads who own the family farm, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“I don’t believe that it’s in the banks’ interest to have foreclosures because they’re going to lose the value of their asset.”

Mr Joyce said the government had also changed the eligibility criteria for the Farm Household Allowance, with over 4300 approvals now and couples receiving $900 to $1000 a fortnight to pay for the basic necessities of life.

The minister was also forced to defend Australia’s foreign investment laws concerning agriculture, during the radio interview.

Mr Joyce said Australia had “the most liberal foreign investment review laws in the world” with “too little oversight”.

He said the Coalition had made an election commitment to bring down the Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) threshold for foreign farmland purchases from $248 million to $15 million and also increase scrutiny for accumulative purchases.

“It’s not in our national interest to have the whole nation owned by another nation,” Mr Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said free trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan had explicitly said the “terms of engagement” with the FIRB included not only $15m for individual farms but also $53m for agribusinesses and $1 for state owned enterprises.

He said the scope of the FIRB would also be broadened to include people with actual agricultural experience, “off the land”.

The Rural Debt Crisis Summit will be held at Winton Shire Council supper rooms from 11:30am on Friday, December 5, 2014.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Top Ender
4/12/2014 6:16:43 AM

You know it is serious when the Rural Debt Crisis Summit is held in the Winton Shire Council supper rooms!
4/12/2014 6:41:33 AM

If you trust governments you are a fool see IMF tells Australian Lawmakers to "Prevent Premature Disclosure of Sensitive Information: on bank bail-ins /17/imf-tells-australian-lawmaker s-to-prevent-premature-disclosure -of-sensitive-information-on-bank -bailins-by-law/ Truly, moral relativism is one of The greatest evils of our time.
4/12/2014 7:05:58 AM

What should be at the forefront of Minister Joyce's mind is to put Australian farmers on an equal footing with their overseas competitors - same property rights, same interest rates, same labour costs and same Government protection. It is a nonesence to suggest there is a drought policy - this is a sector that has been totally neglected for far too long. When Bob Hawke floated the $AUS, deregulated the Banks and put no policies in place to protect Aust businesses, even a blind man could see that producing anything was more profitable off Australia's shores.
jen from the bush
4/12/2014 7:16:51 AM

Since the Brisbane storm was called a disaster, they are subsidizing it to the tune of 50%. Just how many hundreds of millions is that going to be?? If towns can get a handout, why can't farmers?
4/12/2014 7:55:07 AM

Lets call this what it is...a unique debt event driven by a knock on effect of Ludwigs cessation of the live cattle trade, exacerbated by a bad drought..and yes there is a case for help. There is no debt crisis elsewhere....there is just debt!.. with people who make good decisions handling debt well and people who make bad decisions not going so well...its called free enterprise !
4/12/2014 8:07:31 AM

Jen....both do....and more goes to towns and cities because they have more people and pay more taxes...there are many less farmers and as a group they pay far less tax
Bushie Bill
4/12/2014 8:42:48 AM

Remember, dirt-scratchers approach lending institutions for funding. It is not the other way around. If debt is too high (and it isn't), it is the borrowers' fault and the borrowers' fault alone. Totally their own doing. Live with it or get out. Just stop whingeing about an imaginary problem you created in your own mind to explain your failure. We are all tired of agricultural socialism.
4/12/2014 10:25:54 AM

I can just see the backslapping between Katter/s, Joyce, and Jones. They'll all roll their sleeves up, take their ties and "pretend" they can actually change the situation. Government interference will only add to the turmoil like it does it interferes in every other market. It'll just be a good old "knees-up" for the lads and a push for Jones' ratings. He works in talk back radio for a reason!! Let the bank bashing continue!! (It's almost a national sport!!)
4/12/2014 11:05:22 AM

With 4300 farm households on benefits (presumably having exhausted financial reserves) and another $100 million just announced (meaning there is now enough money to service the debt of several hundred farms - presuming eligibility includes having exhausted all other financial reserves to service debts) then who in blazes owns the $3.2 billion sitting in FMDs?!!
4/12/2014 11:15:18 AM

Re: Banks selling foreclosed farms to off-shore buyers. The banks will hopefully remember they make their profit by lending money to farmers, homeowners etc. A foreign buyer will most likely not borrow from the local bank.
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