Farmers will be looking to both the government and ALP in the election campaign for equitable drought policy, and if the reaction to my last The Land column is any guide, they both have work to do.
I was inundated by farmers affected by drought agreeing with the clear injustice between themselves, who have been crucified from extended one in 100 year drought ,and the generous North Queensland flood package. Drought affected farmers could not care less about cute Canberra terminology of "natural disaster" because they feel they are experiencing a natural disaster.
For those who did not read the column I applauded the government for a first rate package in marginal seats of $3.8 billion to North Queensland cattle farmers, consisting of a $75,000 grant, a $400,000 restocking grant plus giving banks $1.75 billion to reduce farmers' interest rates and a rejigging of RIC loans up to 100 per cent finance. Nobody begrudges those farmers the help, but farmers experiencing extended drought have also had massive losses.
Last week the government announced another package of assistance. Once again more loans and help to non-farmers, but the farmers who rang me are strapped for cash. My own agent told me his clients who had held on to their core breeding herds were now selling them off. The recovery when it rains will be very hard.
What part of 'no cash flow' does the National party not understand. Those who can access RIC loans will be grateful, however I fear most will be unable to get them. Perhaps the government could use the profits from the RIC loans, that by my calculations are 1.73 per cent, which is the difference between a 10-year bond rate and RIC loan rate, to finance exceptional circumstance.
The last decent drought package was exceptional circumstance and I had to laugh at the government's frequently parroted mantra that they cannot possibly do that again - what nonsense. What do they call the $1.75 billion they have given the banks to reduce the interest payments of the 250 North Queensland farmers. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck most farmers would call it a duck (exceptional circumstance).
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was established to prevent uncompetitive actions occurring in the market place. What the government has done is give North Queensland farmers a grant they can use in the cattle market and clean up all the cattle. Non-subsidised farmers are finding it hard to compete. I might ring my old mate Mick Keogh at the ACCC and see if the Australian government has been uncompetitive.
Rural communities thrive with a diversity of different farmers, the concentration by governments to help the larger operators is an extension of the get big or get out philosophy that has failed agriculture in the past.
The North Queensland package is a ripper, so lets rethink drought assistance and make it more equitable.
- Mal Peters