Life on the land in Australia

ANZ moratorium on farm foreclosures in drought-hit regions of Queensland and NSW is welcomed by farmers but other banks have not made any moves to do the same.

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The ANZ Bank will soon introduce a 12-month moratorium on forced farm sales in areas of crippling drought throughout Queensland and New South Wales.

But the National Australia and Commonwealth Banks have fallen short of matching ANZ’s pledge.

There’s still concern that banks haven’t done enough to help farmers in drought.

Northern Gulf Graziers Group spokesperson, Rob Atkinson, says the moratorium will boost morale for struggling graziers.

“I’m absolutely overjoyed that ANZ has really come to the party at this time when all producers in drought-stricken areas are feeling the pinch as badly as they are,” he said.

ANZ Australia CEO Phil Chronican says the bank came to its decision in recent weeks, as the issue intensified.

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“While taking possession of a farm is always the last option after all other avenues have been exhausted, we feel it’s prudent to take a pause on any new action, given the severe impact the drought is having in Queensland and northern New South Wales,” he said.

The Bank has not been immune from the barrage of pressure mounting on the major lenders to offer greater compassion to producers in the hardest-hit areas.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says the Bank’s decision is a step in the right direction.

He says the Australian public wants to know that farmers are being treated fairly.

“As we have stated, we much prefer the banks to manage their own situation rather than the government having to intervene.

“These are precisely the actions that show how a bank has the capacity to assist in these difficult times,” said Mr Joyce.

From the air, properties like Camden Park all look the same. Families on homesteads surrounding Longreach image www.ozrural.com

However, Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan isn’t as generous, saying the moratorium doesn’t go far enough.

He says it offers no help to farmers whose properties have already been repossessed.

“They are talking about repossessions that will happen from this day forth, but arguably, most of the repossessions that are going to happen have already happened,” he said.

“My call is for them to apply it to all the distressed loans in agriculture at the moment.

“That means if they repossessed your property yesterday or six months ago, or 12 months ago, and they haven’t realised the sale of it under the terms and conditions of the repossession, then they should apply these conditions.”

A meeting of graziers, agricultural industry leaders and politicians in the western Queensland town of Winton last week called for an immediate halt to farm repossessions.

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The ‘Last Stand At Winton’ forum was convened by the Queensland MP Robbie Katter, who told the Queensland Country Hour the broader community should be concerned about the plight of the country’s primary producers.

“The Australian public reacted to cattle dying in abattoirs in Indonesia, so they might react to the pain they see people experiencing out here,” he said.

“I hope they do. There’s a lot of pain, and there’s more to come. It’s going to get worse.

“It will be too late in a few years time to lament the loss of our rural industry, and all our farming families.

“This is the time to precipitate change.”

Recent data released by Mr Joyce’s office shows 43 producers in Queensland’s gulf country have missed repayments for more than 90 days this year.

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AgForce labels moratorium a ‘positive’

While AgForce president Grant Maudsley hadn’t joined calls for a moratorium, he sees the idea as a ‘positive’ step forward to ease the financial stress on producers.

“There are [forced] sales going on now. I don’t know what they’re going to do retrospectively.

“It’s still a long way back from having a ‘foreclosure’ sign on your front gate to be able to get back into a position where you have some equity and something to work with.”

NAB and CommBank say ‘no’ to moratorium

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Despite predictions the ANZ’s announcement would put pressure on other banks to follow suit, NAB has not committed to a moratorium.

An NAB spokesperson says the bank has almost 30,000 agribusiness customers across the country, but has only foreclosed on seven in Queensland and north-west New South Wales in the last twelve months.

“We currently have no plans to foreclose on any of our drought-affected customers in Queensland and north-west New South Wales,” the spokesperson said.

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“Foreclosure only occurs after a lengthy period of consideration and evaluation that includes an extensive farm debt mediation process and the exhaustion of all other options.”

The Commonwealth Bank also announced further drought support measures on Friday, but stopped short of matching the ANZ’s commitment.

In a statement, the Bank says it will work on a ‘case-by-case basis to review the needs of individual needs of customers involved in agriculture related businesses’.

The Commonwealth Bank has instead pointed to a range of options including a repayment ‘holiday’ and agreed interest-free periods.

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Henry Sapiecha

December 14th, 2014

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