Farmers fume over loan delay

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA farmers are furious that a $60 million concessional loan package remains in limbo after six months of squabbling and inaction by the State and Federal governments.

The loan packages - totalling $420 million across the States and the Northern Territory over two years - are already being rolled out to cash-strapped farmers in Queensland, Victoria and NSW.

A deal to deliver the Commonwealth-funded loans in WA appeared a formality as far back as May when Premier Colin Barnett said: "We'll do our best (to administer the aid package), I promise that to farmers."

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the governments had run out of excuses, with farming families throughout WA facing a debt crisis.

"We have had all sort of reasons why this couldn't happen, including a Labor government in Canberra," Mr Park said.

"The fact is three of the biggest States have signed up.

"We want to know why it is taking so long, how much longer we will have to wait and what the loan criteria are going to be."

It is believed WA and the Commonwealth reached an in-principle agreement before the Federal election to offer farmers loans of up to $200,000 at an interest rate of 4.5 per cent over five years.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said four weeks ago that he was seeking an urgent briefing on the WA loans, but there has been no progress.

WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston wrote to Mr Joyce about the loans on October 4 but has not received a reply.

Mr Baston is seeking final confirmation on administrative arrangements negotiated with the former Labor government.

The loan packages were announced by former treasurer Wayne Swan in April and funded in this year's Budget.

Farmers in Victoria and NSW have lodged almost 300 applications under the scheme with millions of dollars in loans allocated. Queensland farmers have until the end of the month to apply but some loans have been approved.

All three States signed up for the loans before the election.

WA, the NT, South Australia and Tasmania have not reached agreement with the Commonwealth. A key sticking point has been the debt recovery process in cases where farmers default on the loans.

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