Rural Australians will get through this crisis

Opinion: Rural Australians will get through this crisis

Opinion
Many farmers have the concept of social distancing licked, with many of them working in solitude and without anyone within 10 kilometres of them, let alone 1.5 metres.

Many farmers have the concept of social distancing licked, with many of them working in solitude and without anyone within 10 kilometres of them, let alone 1.5 metres.

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Farmers are masters of social distancing, we produce food and we are very well conditioned to getting through a tough time.

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No other part of the Australian economy is in a better position to get through the current crisis than farmers. We are masters of social distancing, we produce food and we are very well conditioned to getting through a tough time.

Dare I mention drought, floods and bushfires, which we take in our stride, and adding a bit of COVID-19 will remind us that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

I was having a yarn with a mate from Walgett, who said he had the social distancing licked as he was sitting in his tractor with nobody 5 kilometres either side of him or 15km front and back.

Most of us know it is easier said than done. On our farm I have had a truck deliver grain for our feedlot, a stock agent draft cattle for sale and my wife, who has to pick up supplies in town. Not to mention grandchildren who have been taken out of school, all a potential risk for spreading the virus.

Farmers can be reassured the Australian public are being reminded daily how critical farmers are for people in cities as they might need a solicitor once a year, a doctor three times but without farmers' provision of food daily they don't last long.

We are in unprecedented times with a double bunger of a problem, with the health crisis needing priority until we "flatten the curve" to stop the spread, so the 2 per cent of people who require urgent ICU hospital care can be treated.

Farmers would be concerned by the vision of doctors in Italy deciding who will get ICU admission and who won't, spelling a death sentence for some. Governments are working overtime to rapidly increase our nation's 2200 ICU beds so we can better cope, while getting those manufacturers who can make ventilators stepping up to do so.

The gravity of the economic fallout will be unlike anything experienced before, but it will bring a fundamental change to the Australian economy. Government can add small fill, but cannot replace private sector activity. Falls of 10pc to GDP look likely and unemployment could hit 20pc, which is beyond 1928 depression levels.

The government assistance to help retain staff is light on with 50pc of the PAYG tax you pay from January 1 to June 30. Smaller operators with only a few employees will get $10,000 when they do their BAS and PAYG in April. Another $10,000 is available in the next BAS period if you have paid that much, which most smaller farmers will not. The $90 billion RBA stimulus to banks is harder to track down, with some banks passing on interest rate cuts beyond the 0.25pc reduction in the cash rate and some not. Fixed interest rates have no reduction and the details of the $250,000 loan are not yet clear.

This crisis could provide an opportunity when we come out the other side to be a much more caring and family oriented society, but thank goodness we are a tough bunch because we will need every bit of that to get through a crisis worse than any other in living memory.

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