THE Canberra rural debt roundtable meeting agreed to begin sharing data to better understand the issue in detail, and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said it's imminent.
“ABARES, the Australian Bankers’ Association, the Gulf Cattlemen’s Association, and the National Farmers’ Federation, have been working together these past weeks to share debt data specifically in the Gulf cattle country and in some of the worst drought-affected regions, such as north-western New South Wales,” Mr Joyce said.
“I expect the data report to be ready soon.”
Mr Joyce said the forum also recommended the government establish a working group to develop options for a nationally consistent farm debt mediation scheme.
“Farm debt mediation brings together a farmer and their bank so they can better negotiate strategies and options in the management of the farmer’s financial position, however, current schemes vary from state to state,” he said.
“It is important that farmers understand their rights and responsibilities when negotiating with their bank, thus a national scheme would provide much needed structure to the process.
“The working group has already held preliminary discussions and will have its first face-to-face meeting today.
“I’ve asked this group to report back to me by mid-December.
“A national approach will help all farmers and their bankers access a simpler, more consistent system regardless of where they live and do business.”
Changes to concessional loans scheme
Mr Joyce said the forum also called on the government to consider whether changes to the current concessional loans scheme are warranted.
“It is clear that some areas of the country - particularly in Queensland and New South Wales - are experiencing a one in 100-year drought event,” he said.
“My department has recently confirmed that there is close to $100 million that was not spent in the first round of the Farm Finance concessional loans programme; that is the 2013–14 financial year.
“I have spoken with my government colleagues and asked my department to explore the possibility that these funds could be used to assist those experiencing a one in 100-year drought, with any potential new measure to complement the existing Farm Finance and Drought Concessional Loan programs.
“There is no quick or easy fix when it comes to drought, however, this government remains committed to doing what we reasonably can to assist farmers, even with the difficult budget situation we currently face.
“The fact is this Coalition government is delivering significantly more drought support measures – and more funding – to more farmers than the former Labor government ever did. There is a range of government support available to farmers in need right now, including Farm Household Allowance, Farm Finance concessional loans and drought concessional loans, and the Rural Financial Counselling Service,” he said.