Scott Morrison talks with Bridget McKenzie and David Littleproud on a beef and cattle property near Quilpie. (ABC News: Anna Henderson)
The banking union is pushing Australia’s biggest agricultural lenders to commit to long-term drought policies that protect country branches and customers, ahead of today’s meeting with key government representatives in Canberra.
The Federal Government will try to swing the focus on to drought for the rest of the week, calling the major banks and agricultural lenders to the nation’s capital for talks today.
Tomorrow, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will run a broader summit on the dry conditions at Old Parliament House.
The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will chair this afternoon’s Drought Finance Taskforce, which includes ANZ, Westpac, NAB, Commonwealth and Rabobank along with the National Farmers Federation.
The banks are keen to repair the damage caused by explosive revelations about customer treatment that were aired in the banking royal commission.
Mr Frydenberg says the taskforce would focus on the impact of the drought, both on farmers and small businesses.
Most banks have already relaxed the rules on certain fees, charges, and repayment timeframes to alleviate the burden for those earning little or no income.
Calls for long-term policy
While the majority have also given a short-term undertaking not to close branches in drought-affected areas, the Financial Sector Union has been pushing for a long-term policy position.
“We are encouraged that the banks have understood how serious this is,” the union’s national assistant secretary Nathan Rees said.
“But this won’t be the last drought on the driest continent in the world and we want to see this as a position of policy into future.
“We have to wonder if the FSU had not pushed this whether they [the banks] would have made these commitments at all.”
Mr Rees said one of the by-products of small town branch closures was a loss of local knowledge and the demise of bank managers who understood their clients.
“Agribusiness management shouldn’t be centralised to city sites,” he said.
“We need localised management of agribusiness by people who are familiar with agricultural and climate cycles.”
The banks are expected to arrive at today’s meeting armed with anonymous data on the trends for drought-affected customers in financial stress.
The government wants to use the information to target public funding and other drought relief measures to specific geographic areas that are most in need.