No rain and growing debt: Farmers want a new approach to drought

Yesterday Robbie spoke with Dominique Schwartz from ABC Rural on the growing debt crippling rural farmers.

See transcript below taken from ABC website or visit website:


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Queensland’s worst drought on record now covers more than 80 per cent of the state. But it’s not the only part of Australia desperate for a drink.

Every other state or territory except the ACT has areas struggling through three years of record drought or severely low rainfall.

In many rural areas the only thing that’s growing is debt and ever-louder calls for a new approach to supporting farmers through tough times are now being heard all over the country.

Here’s National Rural and Regional Reporter Dominique Schwartz.

ALISON MOBBS: I’ve got you in for two nights, is that right?


ALISON MOBBS: Fantastic, and cash or card today?

VISITOR: Card please.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Alison Mobbs rounds up guests rather than cattle these days. Just two months ago she and husband Rhett reluctantly sold their cattle station.

They now own and run a motel in Longreach.

ALISON MOBBS: Thank you for calling the Jumbuck, this is Alison.

We sold cattle to buy into the motel.

That was hard, hard for my husband. I think cattle that he had bred and particularly some bulls that he really loved that he had kept, having to sell those was a quite a heartache.

But reality of survival and you just get on with it. You regret it but do it.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: She says three years of crippling drought on top of the 2011 live cattle export ban left the family of five with mounting debt even though she and her husband also worked off-farm jobs.

ALISON MOBBS: Certainly it was hard and certainly we do feel a bit lost at the moment and not really sure where we are going to end up or what we’re going to do longer term.

ROB KATTER: Rural debt undeniably is a large lead weight, arguably the biggest lead weight that’s affecting agriculture across Queensland at the moment.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: Rob Katter is the state MP for the vast, rain-starved electorate of Mt Isa in north-western Queensland. He’s chair of a taskforce set up last week by the Queensland government to tackle a looming rural debt crisis.

ROB KATTER: This has been a growing problem for years. This point would have come up 10 or 15 years’ time without drought; the drought has exacerbated the issue of viability.

And part of that viability can be fixed by finance structures that are more commensurate with the risks associated with agriculture.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: But debt doesn’t have to be a dirty word if it’s managed properly, according to Rob Katter, a member of his father Bob Katter’s Australian Party.

He would like to see a government-backed rural bank or reconstruction board which would tide over otherwise viable businesses in hardship with accessible low-interest loans, not a reinvention of assistance every time it’s needed.

Alison Mobbs, whose family’s cattle business wasn’t eligible for drought assistance, agrees.

ALISON MOBBS: It has been a policy failure that needs to be addressed and hopefully will be.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ: As president of Queensland’s Rural Regional and Remote Women’s Network she also wants to see a more immediate and fairer way of supporting rural communities.

Quilpie Shire in the heart of drought-affected Western Queensland was drought-declared by the State Government two years ago but still doesn’t qualify for federal community funding of $1.5 million.

Quilpie shire mayor Stuart Mackenzie:

STUART MACKENZIE: We’ve been knocked back a second time, so very disheartening for the whole community. Finding it very tough be honest going into the summer and it’s really starting to hit hard again as it does every summer, and having this sort of feeling of abandonment I suppose from Federal Government.

ROB KATTER: We need something substantial and if it doesn’t come I think we’d be looking at a very different landscape in five or 10 years’ time in rural Australia.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That’s rural and regional reporter Dominique Schwartz there.

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