By Elena Garcia
As the demand for Australian farm products skyrockets in Asia, corporate Australia is buying up drought-crippled but viable rural properties at bargain prices.
Conservative federal MP Bob Katter proposed legislation late last year that would force banks to allow farmers two years to sell foreclosed properties instead of forcing 6-week fire sales. Katter cited sources in the agricultural industry on forced bank sales, saying that with only two months to sell, a farmer would be lucky to get 40% of market value for their property, but with two years to sell a farmer could expect to obtain 80% of market value.
The legislation would also stop banks imposing confidentiality agreements that allow them to bully their victims with a range of dirty tricks, now being investigated by a Senate banking inquiry.
Action is being mounted in the Federal Court alleging that ANZ forced farmers into “engineered defaults” and entrapped them into signing changed loan contracts when it bought out the loan book of the Landmark group in 2009.
This corporate bullying has a terrible social cost. Lifeline figures show that when a severe drought hits a rural community and financial and emotional stress levels climb, suicide rates increase sixfold.
A new Rural Bank
A record 86% of Queensland is now drought-declared, following three failed wet seasons. Many farmers are without the funds to re-stock their properties when the drought breaks. It is in this context that the banks are forcing foreclosures of properties that have not defaulted on mortgage payments and selling them at only 40% of market value.
There is a dire need for a government with vision to re-establish a Rural Bank to offer long-term loans at 2% interest and cheap farm insurance to viable, sustainable rural businesses, so that farmers and their communities can continue to produce clean affordable food, manage the Australian landscape to minimise bushfires and keep our water catchments clean.