Drought task force convened

By Country News

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned banks not to foreclose on farmers or hit them with extra fees during the crippling drought afflicting eastern Australia.

A new drought finance task force will bring major agricultural lenders, the government and the National Farmers’ Federation together to look at ways to help drought-stricken farmers.

Mr Frydenberg, who will chair the new group, wants to ensure affected communities are given the best possible chance.

‘‘This is the wrong time to be hitting them with extra charges,’’ he said last Wednesday.

‘‘This is the wrong time to be foreclosing on them. This is the wrong time to do anything which makes their viability as a business that much more difficult.’’

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud will be the task force’s’ deputy chair, while drought special envoy Barnaby Joyce and Queensland MP John McVeigh will also be involved.

Senior representatives from ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Westpac and Rabobank will be on the task force, along with a high-level member of the NFF.

The group will work on ensuring farmers and small businesses in rural and regional communities have access to finance.

Mr Frydenberg said no-one was doing it harder than families and communities in drought-stricken areas of the country, particularly in NSW and Queensland.

‘‘They’re going through a really tough time,’’ he said.

The task force will also advise the government, the NFF and bank chief executives on measures to help alleviate pressure on producers.

Australian Banking Association chief Anna Bligh pointed to deferral of scheduled loan repayments, waiving fees and restructuring loans as measures already taken to help struggling farmers.

‘‘Banks have been closely monitoring drought conditions across the country, particularly in NSW and Queensland, and have each individually announced drought packages for their customers,’’ Ms Bligh said.

NFF president Fiona Simson said the task force would be important in assessing the effectiveness of risk management tools, identifying improvements and bringing change.

‘‘Bringing banks, the government and farmer representatives together on a regular basis will provide a vital forum for taking the pulse of rural communities managing drought,’’ she said.