WA left out of loans again

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Southern Cross farmer Paul Della Bosca says the delay in accessing loans will cost his farm dearly. "If we had the funds by now, we would have been able to have a full cropping and livestock program," he said.
Camera IconSouthern Cross farmer Paul Della Bosca says the delay in accessing loans will cost his farm dearly. "If we had the funds by now, we would have been able to have a full cropping and livestock program," he said. Credit: The West Australian

WA has been left out of the next round of drought funding for concessional loans implemented by the Federal Government.

The Countryman understands Prime Minister Tony Abbott signed off the new Farm Finance Concessional Loan Scheme yesterday, just hours before flying to Indonesia for a meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

A spokesman for Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said $280 million in farm finance assistance would be available for the Queensland and NSW State Governments to access and then designate through their preferred agencies, however administrative delays in WA would mean the money would not be available to the State for the time being.

It is the second time WA has missed out on drought funding, after the first Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme for 2013-14 attracted only 39 applications.

The failure of the initial scheme for WA was blamed on overly restrictive qualification criteria, which prevented loans to restructure debt, and loans capped at $200,000.

The spokesman said it had been a challenge for Minister Joyce to get the scheme through Cabinet at the same time as SPC and Holden had their requests for funding denied.

He said Mr Joyce had always anticipated the new scheme would take some time to finalise, because the initial scheme’s guidelines were too restrictive, meaning many drought-affected farmers would be unfairly prevented from applying for a loan.

“Mr Joyce has been working hard to broaden the availability of the loans," he said.

The spokesman said Mr Joyce had written to all the State Ministers on the 15 April with the draft guidelines.

“Prior to that date the Department of Agriculture and Food had been in consultation with the State’s departments on the guidelines,” he said.

“NSW responded two days after receiving the guidelines, with Queensland responding the following week.

“WA’s response was not received by the Minister until the week of May 5.”

Mr Joyce had previously delivered a stinging vote of no-confidence over the State Government's seeming inability to deliver two multimillion-dollar financial aid packages for battling farmers.

At the time, Mr Joyce recommended Queensland should administer a drought assistance package in WA in a sign of Canberra's growing frustration with the State Government and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA.

WAFarmers President Dale Park said he was disappointed over the delay of funding to WA.

“Earlier this year, WAFarmers met with Mr Joyce to discuss the prompt roll-out of drought loans announced in February,” he said.

“During this meeting, WAFarmers raised concerns about the timely administration of the loans and suggested the program be administered by the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority, as in several other states.

“This suggestion was made to ensure the quickest possible distribution of funds prior to seeding.”

Mr Joyce agreed with this suggestion and WAFarmers called on the State government to take immediate action by using QRAA or an alternative arrangement.

“Now, as most farmers finish up their seeding programs, we are yet to see these loans roll out in Western Australia while they are set to go ahead in other states,” Mr Park said.

“WAFarmers is disappointed to hear WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston is asking for additional funding to administer the loans, holding up the process and leaving Western Australian farmers in need to struggle into another season.

“While WAFarmers understands Budget pressures facing the operation of the Rural Business Development Corporation, which is expected to administer the loans, this is a matter of urgency for many growers in the eastern Wheatbelt and pastoral regions.

“WAFarmers would welcome an explanation from Mr Baston as to why it is more expensive to administer loans in Western Australia compared with other States and the rationale behind his decision to leave growers who have faced difficult climatic conditions to continue to struggle.”

A spokeswoman for WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston said the Federal Government had yet to finalise the State's request for additional funding to administer the loans.

"While we have accepted the $10 million deal offered by the Federal Government, we are still waiting for confirmation on additional funds to cover the Eastern Wheatbelt, which was not eligible under the Federal Government's initial drought formula," she said.

She also said WA had not yet officially appointed an agency to deliver the loans.

"The Rural Business Development Corporation will administer the loans, but a formal agreement is still yet to be signed," she said.

Opposition agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon has called on Mr Joyce to resign if he fails to deliver the loans in the coming weeks as promised.

"It is now clear that the Prime Minister's February drought tour was more about stopping the political bleeding than helping drought-affected farming families," he said.

"The pictures looked good, but three months on, farmers are still waiting for farm finance assistance to be delivered."

Mr Fitzgibbon said the promised $280 million was a false promise by the Abbott Government, which was used as a "circuit breaker" of voter discontent at the time.

"The concessional loans sounded big, but not a cent has flowed to farmers," he said.

"Farmers were led to believe in February that additional drought assistance was imminent.

"They were deceived."

Mr Fitzgibbon said Mr Abbott's victims this time were rural Australians.

"The victims this time are our farmers, their families and the rural communities which rely on a healthy farm sector," he said.

"Now Barnaby Joyce says he'll have something to say in 'early June', so if he fails to deliver this time, he should resign."

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