By Mehroz Siraj
The federal government announced on April 27 that farmers across the country would receive concessional loans worth $420million under a new drought policy that it had formulated after detailed discussions with the country’s agricultural organizations.
The new loan facility was revealed through the publication of the relevant policy papers on the website of the Department of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (Daff).
The papers revealed that farmers who earned an income of less than $65,000 per annum could now qualify for concessional loans of up to $650,000 over two years under the reconstituted Farmers Management Deposit (FMD) scheme.
According to the documents, farmers could avail the scheme if they deposited a share of their income during profitable days into the fund.
These deposits would ensure that during difficult times, they would be able to access the loan facility and seek tax exemptions when they were short on cash, the report said.
Agricultural Minister Joe Ludwig said that from July 2014 onwards, farmers who earned up to $100,000 per annum during the profitable days would also be able to avail the facility.
“What we will use is existing federal and state and territory bodies, who are very experienced and have managed these types of loans before,” he told ABC Radio, saying that the loans would be dispatched to the states and the farmers by highly reputable agricultural organizations.
According to the policy documents, these new concessional loans would help farmers in growing and investing in their businesses during difficult periods.
They would help farmers in managing risks and overhauling their business structures and practices, the report said.
The new FMD scheme would also enable farmers to engage in debt restructuring with government support, the report said.
The scheme has also cleared the way for the recruitment of 16 regionally based financial counsellors, whose main job would be to discover and highlight high risk agricultural regions of the country and then to help the farmers in those regions with their financial management and counselling.
These counsellors would also help their clients in preparing business strategies and negotiating loan agreements, the report said.
The counsellors would also advise farmers on available government assistance packages that they could access through Centrelink, the report said.
A separate funding of $5.6million has been kept aside for this programme, in which the counsellors would initially be placed across the disaster stricken regions of the mainland, the report said.
These new policies were revealed after months of protests from the farmers who were struggling to cope with the multitude of challenges that they were facing.
These included the decline in crop yields and productivity of the agricultural lands because of natural disasters, the falling numbers of animal trade with Indonesia and the buying up of Australian agricultural land by Asian businesses.
These developments were risking the lives and livelihoods of many Australian families, farmers and experts said.
The new reforms have been accepted by the National Farmers Association (NFA) and the opposition.
In his remarks made to ABC Radio, NFA president Brett Finlay said that this policy was the outcome of years of negotiations between the federal government and the agricultural industry.
He stressed upon the importance of ensuring meaningful implementation of these reforms so that struggling farmers could get the timely assistance that they required.
Shadow Agricultural Minister John Cobb said that the opposition was broadly supportive of the new reforms, however he wanted to see the finer details of the new policy before he could register his views on the issue.