BANKS HAVE finally “stumped up” to help farmers in drought, according to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
Westpac and ANZ have become the last of the major banks to agree to let farmers offset money put away in good times against money they’ve borrowed.
It comes after Mr Littleproud piled pressure on the banks to let farmers offset Farm Management Deposits against their loans.
Westpac and ANZ were the last two banks to hold out, but on Thursday they joined Commonwealth Bank, Rabobank, NAB and Rural Bank in falling in line with the minister’s demands.
“Today Westpac and the ANZ finally showed up for our farmers,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Two years ago this government made changes to the law to allow farmers to use their FMD as an offset against their loans and for two years I’ve been a broken record calling for the banks to stump up.
“The banks make billions out of agriculture and for too long the relationship has been take, take take.”
Westpac will now offer an interest adjustment for customers with farm management deposits to effectively offset balances against eligible business loans.
The $100 million fund will provide loans of up to $1 million to existing Westpac agribusiness customers at discounted variable interest.
Drought-affected farmers with Westpac will also be able to defer principal and interest repayments for up to 12 months on existing loans.
ANZ is offering $130 million in discounted loans, and is waiving fees for restructuring business loans.
Labor has also promised to hire 100 extra Centrelink workers to help drought-stricken farmers if it wins the next election.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a Labor government would fund extra community response officers.
“Farmers don’t have time to deal with complicated bureaucratic processes when they’re concentrating on getting through the drought,” Mr Shorten said.
“So Labor wants to ensure that assistance is getting to farmers as quickly as possible with support on hand from Centrelink officers when they need it.”
The government has invested in rural financial counsellors to help farmers access drought support.
But the application process for the Farm Household Allowance has come under fire, with many farmers not seeking help because of the paperwork associated with the payment.
Labor blames government cuts to Centrelink for up to 19 000 eligible farmers not applying for the allowance.