DETAILS of eligibility and access to the federal government’s Farm Finance package will become clearer, and the cash delivered faster, once the Northern Territory and State governments agree with Canberra on how the scheme will be administered.
The federal Coalition and various farm groups have welcomed the new support measures announced on the weekend but they have also criticised the lack of detail.
The biggest vacuum is the lack of clarity on the eligibility criteria for individual farmers that must be viewed as viable but struggling financially under current conditions, including seasonal pressures and the forces of the high Australian dollar.
WA is seeking urgent clarification, where seeding is underway but those farmers who have struggled to get finance for planting this season’s crop are still unsure exactly what the government will provide and if it will benefit them directly.
WA Liberal Senator Chris Back said details of the package were quite unclear, including how many farmers would benefit, how its benefits would be dispersed and how farmers actually proved their viability.
The scheme’s key plank allows each State and the NT access to $60 million loans over two years from the federal government for providing concessional loans to farmers of up to $650,000 each.
A federal government spokesperson said a letter was emailed to State and NT governments on Saturday when the scheme was announced, asking for their support with administering low interest loans through State delivery agencies, like the Queensland Rural Adjustment Authority (QRAA).
The first step is for the States and NT to agree to administer the Farm Finance scheme and deliver individual loans to farmers under stress in their States.
After sign-up, the Commonwealth will discuss and finalise the eligibility criteria and guidelines with the NT and States, based on the severity of stress farmers may be suffering in the individual jurisdictions.
The government says it can’t say exactly how many individual farmers will benefit right now, because the number of eligible farmers, or how much they would actually borrow individually, is unknown.
However, the interest rates on the loans are expected to be well below the rates of commercial loans and devised by the State-based administration agencies, like QRAA.
QRAA has administered support schemes for flood affected primary producers and small business owners in recent years including cash grants and 4pc interest loans of up to $250,000.
The government isn’t expecting the States and NT to disagree to the new scheme but says the sooner they do agree and the finer details are devised the faster struggling farmers will be able to access financial assistance.
The State based administration facilities and delivery systems are largely lying dormant and waiting to be put into gear.
However, as of Monday evening, none of the States or the NT had provided a formal response to Minister Ludwig’s office.