In a joint media statement from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Minister for Agriculture and Resources David Littleproud, the government has established a new drought finance taskforce designed to leverage resources and share insights on ways in which the government and banks could further support drought-affected farmers and rural and regional small businesses.
Treasurer Frydenberg will chair the new taskforce, with Mr Littleproud to serve as deputy chair.
Other members of the taskforce include former deputy prime minister and drought special envoy Barnaby Joyce, regional Queensland MP John McVeigh, a senior representative from the National Farmers Federation (NFF), and a senior representative from ANZ, Commonwealth Bank (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB), Rabobank and Westpac.
The government noted that the taskforce will consider and respond to the impact of the drought on local small businesses as well as farmers, adding that many local small businesses depend on farming activities.
The Drought Finance Taskforce will:
- leverage government, business and industry resources in rural and regional communities to further determine the impact that the drought has had or is having on farmers and local small businesses;
- establish mechanisms to share insights in a timely manner; and
- advise the government, bank CEOs and the NFF on drought impacts as well as further measures that could help alleviate the impact on farmers and local small businesses.
The establishment of the taskforce follows the drought roundtable held by Mr Littleproud in early July, in which banks and farm groups discussed financial literacy issues and farm management deposits.
“The government continues to prioritise regional and rural communities affected by the drought, as demonstrated by the expansion of the $1.8 billion drought assistance package,” the government noted in its statement.
“The taskforce is an additional way for government, business and industry to work together and ensure that they are not only receiving the most up-to-date information but also able to respond quickly so farmers and local small businesses receive the additional support they need, as soon as possible.”
CEO of the Australian Banking Association (ABA) Anna Bligh welcomed the government’s announcement.
“Today’s announcement of a new taskforce will help coordinate the sharing of information between banks, governments departments and our elected officials to ensure our farmers and regional communities affected by the drought receive the support they need quickly and easily,” Ms Bligh said.
“For many decades, Australian banks have been supporting our farmers through droughts, floods and other natural disasters.
“Banks have been closely monitoring drought conditions across the country, particularly in NSW and Queensland, and have each individually announced drought packages for their customers.
“Initiatives already announced include deferred loan payments, waiving fees and restructuring loans.”
NAB chief customer officer of business and private banking Anthony Healy, who will represent the bank in the new taskforce, also welcomed the announcement.
“We know many of our customers in regional and rural areas are facing tough conditions as a result of the drought, and we are committed to supporting them during difficult times,” Mr Healy said.
“Being a part of this taskforce builds on our existing support to rural Australia and the agricultural industry, particularly those in drought-impacted areas.”
He added: “Since July, senior leaders from NAB have been visiting regional and rural communities across Australia to hear from customers, farmers, local businesses and community organisations.
“We are listening and will continue to take actions to support regional and rural communities that we have been a part of for 160 years.”
ANZ group executive Australian business and private banking Mark Hand said: “This is an important development in Australia’s effort to support the farmers and communities in drought-declared regions.
“In recent months, we have provided relief measures such as reducing business lending rates by 1.00 per cent p.a. for farmers impacted by the drought, and providing $1 million in donations.
“The new taskforce announced today will help provide further support and relief for those who are doing it tough across drought-declared areas of Australia.”
ANZ has noted that its head of agribusiness, Mark Bennett, will represent the bank in the taskforce.
[Related: Major bank launches drought relief package]