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Rural Debt Group chair: Farm Finance package shows Australia ‘is growing up’

Rowell Walton, Rural Finance Roundtable Working Group chair, 30/04/2013

OPINION

In early 2010 it was becoming clear that the Global Financial Crisis was going to bite farmers pretty hard, and, as the year unfolded, I came to the decision that something had to be done.

I called my old friend, economist Ben Rees, and said, “Ben, can you explain what on earth is going on?”

His analysis is deep and comes from a view that well explains how our nation’s farmers have found themselves, almost all, in trouble, with ever diminishing profits and escalating debts.

The Rural Finance Roundtable Working Group (RFRWG) formed at the Queensland University of Technology in October 2012.

It carried several resolutions, but what really happened was it decided on an order of priority – low profit is the problem, but it’s the debt that will get you, and it’s the debt that needs to be addressed immediately!

So the Commonwealth Government has rolled out a program, in rather less time than many would have thought. It is a Labor government and this will challenge those conservatives who lived through Howard’s time, when a full roll out of the Keating’s Hilmer reforms was undertaken. 

What is clear is that someone cares, that the belief that only a conservative government may help struggling farmers is forever cast aside. The Commonwealth has provided effective leadership and the RFRWG participant’s all welcome this with open arms, as do many who are recent converts to the cause, we welcome them all.

And it’s a national rollout, even to some states like Western Australia where nothing has been available.

It would indeed be unusual for the states not to match the contribution dollar for dollar, it’s not as if the need is not there.

This is a turning point in the evolution of industry policy.

Appropriate knowledge will now mean that to remove assistance from producers who every day will get paid less for their production is to condemn ordinary working families to misery.

It must also mean that an orderly adjustment will follow from the debt excesses of the pre-GFC world.

This is not the end, it is the beginning. Industry organisations and governments alike now know there are and must be alternatives.

Rural Australia is confronting a policy dilemma common to agriculture in advanced modern economies, Australia is growing up.

 

Rowell Walton is a grain grower from Condamine in Queensland and the chair of the Rural Finance Roundtable Working Group formed in October 2012 at a rural finance summit convened by Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan

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