Government announces Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce

Published Monday, 19 October, 2015 at 11:30 PM

Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships
The Honourable Curtis Pitt

The Palaszczuk Government has announced the establishment of a Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce to help identify and recommend solutions to address the debt issues faced by Queensland’s primary producers.

Treasurer Curtis Pitt today said the government was committed to Queensland’s farmers who were facing debt issues exacerbated by ongoing drought conditions.

“The agricultural sector makes a substantial contribution to our economy, so it's important we address the difficulties faced by drought-affected farmers," Mr Pitt said.

"The serious issue of rural debt has been exacerbated by years of drought, and as a first step, we announced a $52.1 million drought package earlier this year.

"Rural debt is having a real impact on people’s lives and I don’t pretend for a second that there’s a simple solution to such a complex issue.

"The Rural Debt Taskforce will play an important role in informing the ongoing support and assistance Government can offer to drought-affected farmers."

The cross party Taskforce, to be chaired by the Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter, will include an MP from the Government and the Opposition who have notionally accepted a position on the taskforce.

It will also involve senior State Government officials and representatives from the agricultural sector including the Queensland Farmers Federation and AgForce, as well as the Local Government Association of Queensland.

Mr Katter said the current economic conditions across the agricultural sector must change and levels of debt in rural Queensland must be stabilised.

"As chair I accept responsibility for getting to heart of this issue on behalf of primary producers and their communities," Mr Katter said.

“The member for Dalrymple Shane Knuth and I have long advocated for a Reconstruction Board and Development Bank to stabilise the finances of desperate primary producers and dependent industries and communities.

"I’ve stipulated a 60 day reporting deadline to ensure we get real outcomes and this isn’t a talkfest, we are thankful the Government has seen the need to establish a workable Taskforce capable of recommending solid ongoing advice when needed.

"If people can see that their own Government is willing to assist them in a real and practical way, hope and confidence will be injected back where it is needed most."

The committee will consider relevant materials form other investigations and will also conduct hearings at a number of Queensland locations.

Treasurer Pitt said that in addition to the Taskforce, a Rural Debt Banking Roundtable would be convened in November.

“The Roundtable will bring together the major private and public lenders to discuss the challenges facing the agricultural sector and how existing measures could be improved to further support Queensland farmers and their families,” Mr Pitt said.

“As part of this process, we will undertake a new Rural Debt Survey similar to the survey conducted by the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority (QRAA) in 2011, with the cooperation of financial institutions to identify areas of particular concern.”

QRAA currently provides concessional loans to drought-affected farmers across Queensland and in 2014-15 approved more than $154 million in assistance to Queensland farmers, primarily through these schemes.

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