Bank reforms ease years of pain

Zach RelphCountryman
Janine and Stephen Harley, of Boyup Brook.
Camera IconJanine and Stephen Harley, of Boyup Brook. Credit: Victoria Baker

A Boyup Brook family says more than five years of “phenomenal stress” has been eased in a raft of proposed agricultural lending reforms to safeguard farmers from losing their livelihoods.

In June 2013, the Harleys were thrown into disarray when ANZ sought to default the family only weeks after its patriarch, Stephen, suffered a heart attack and was awaiting surgery.

ANZ ordered Mr Harley and wife Janine from the farm, which had been with the Harleys for 107 years, after the couple could not fully clear their $2.5 million debt.

It signalled the start of a tumultuous road for the family, with Mr and Mrs Harley forced off the property and now solely relying on the income from their livestock transport business. However, the Harleys are taking solace in Commissioner Kenneth Hayne’s recommendations for distressed agricultural loans outlined in the banking royal commission’s damning final report.

Among the reforms, Mr Hayne is calling for a national farm-debt-mediation scheme to aid borrowers when addressing financial difficulties which have caused loans to become distressed.

The report also stated that distressed loans should be managed by experienced agricultural bankers, which was welcomed by an emotional Mrs Harley.

“It has been a phenomenal stress on the entire family,” she said.

“We try and take every day as it comes and focus forward to do the best that we can — but it is hard.

“I still get really upset when speaking about the banks ... it brings up a lot of emotions.

“I do welcome the changes put forward.

“Having agricultural bankers in place is really important because knowledge of farming is definitely needed in these instances.”

Mr and Mrs Harley now live with their son Nathan, daughter-in-law Natasha and three grandchildren, just 10km from their former farm.

Mrs Harley said she hoped the banking royal commission’s touted changes would protect farmers from enduring what her family experienced.

“I’m glad that ANZ are being held accountable,” she said.

“No one else should have to go through what we have gone through.”

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