The Federal Government has created a new drought finance taskforce with Australia’s biggest banks in an attempt to provide relief to drought-affected farmers and small businesses affected in regional areas.
Senior representatives from ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Rabobank, and Westpac, will fill the taskforce’s ranks and will help to establish mechanisms to share relevant data with one another on a confidential basis. Treasurer Josh Frydenburg will chair the taskforce with Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud and drought special envoy Barnaby Joyce to also be involved.
The taskforce promises to “consider and respond” to the grievances of small businesses in rural and regional areas where the ongoing drought is the most severe.
The drought taskforce builds on earlier initiatives to support struggling farmers and business owners, including the recent announcement of a $1.8 billion draft assistance package.
“The taskforce is an additional way for government, business and industry to work together to 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,” Frydenberg said in a statement on Wednesday.
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell has welcomed the establishment of the taskforce and its inclusion of small business.
“I’m really pleased that local small businesses are on the list, they regularly haven’t been when there have been drought support packages,” Carnell in comments to SmartCompany.
“Many small businesses give a lot of credit to farmers during this time, the local pharmacy isn’t going to say they can’t have their scripts … that puts real pressure on their capacity.
“It’s important for banks to realise that small business, just like farmers, will be struggling to pay their loans and interest repayments,” she adds.
Banks have already offered to defer scheduled loan repayments, consolidate debt and restructure existing loans for drought-affected farmers.