Australia’s farming community has welcomed, in principle, an announcement by the Federal Government aimed at supporting farmers in the grips of rural debt and at risk of returning to drought.
Vice-President of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), Brent Finlay acknowledged the ‘Farm Finance’ package announcement, saying that it was good to see the Government listening to farmers’ vocal calls for action on rural debt and the NFF’s advocacy for the finalisation of the national drought reform policy.
While Mr Finlay welcomed the announcements on rural debt, he questioned whether the Government was going far enough on drought, and criticised the piecemeal approach to policy.
“Today, we are pleased to see that the Government is responding to our calls, and to the calls of farmers who are feeling the effects of $60 billion of rural debt and a return to very dry conditions in some parts of the country. While today’s announcement is a step forward, some questions remain unanswered on the national drought reform policy and the uncertain operating environment faced by farmers,” Mr Finlay said.
“Firstly re debt, the decision by the Government to consider a national debt mediation process to help resolve issues around farmer access to finance is positive. The NFF has been part of early discussions, including at the agricultural finance forum, and will be one of the key partners in a working group set up to drive this forward. We look forward to working with the banking sector and the various States/Territories to achieve a better outcome for farming businesses.
“We also welcome the announcement of concessional loans to assist farmers in restructuring their debt. The Government has spoken of the need to invest in productivity and prepare for the future – exactly what we have been saying the Government needs to do in reprioritising Australian agriculture. We are very pleased to see that they are listening, and have acknowledged the scale of the task at hand, and we look forward to seeing the finer detail around these loans.
“On drought policy reform, we welcome many elements of the Government’s announcement, including the decision to provide additional support for Rural Financial Counsellors. We also see positives in the move to increase the off-farm income allowance under Farm Management Deposits (FMD) from $65,000 to $100,000; and to help streamline the FMD process to reduce time and cost.
“Yet while these changes to FMDs are good news for farm businesses operating in a partnership structure or as a sole trader, the same flexibility has not been afforded to the growing number of family farms that operate under company structures – meaning inequity among farmers.
“And we are still yet to see Government commit to any detail on a host of other drought preparedness and response measures, like farm household support payments, farm business training, tools to help inform farmer decision making and in-drought business support measures. We call on the Government to provide details of their drought policy framework in the coming week, as part of the meeting of Federal and State Agriculture Ministers at the Standing Council on Primary Industries.
“It has taken six years to get this point on drought policy reform – and, with dry conditions worsening in parts of the country, we absolutely cannot afford to wait another six years to lock the full drought policy down. Weather is unpredictable enough – the least the Government can do is provide some certainty in drought policy,” Mr Finlay said.