Senator O’Sullivan Says it’s Crunch Time for Rural Lenders

14 July 2014

Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan has invited Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive officer Steven Münchenberg to “roll out his swag for a couple of days” and hear, first-hand, the true extent of the Queensland rural debt crisis.

In the written letter, Senator O’Sullivan invites Mr Munchenberg to join him on a tour of rural Queensland in the coming weeks.

Senator O’Sullivan said the banking industry representative would be afforded the opportunity to listen to graziers who are confronting increasing debt stress.

“I am willing to set aside any part of my calendar outside of parliamentary sittings to take Mr Munchenberg on this tour,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“We will hold meetings with landholders from the north to the south-west and in between.

“Mr Munchenberg will be provided every opportunity to discuss the experiences of farmers with their rural lenders.

“My office will organise these meetings, I simply ask that Mr Munchenberg gives a commitment to accompanying us.”

Senator O’Sullivan said farm debt in Australia has increased by almost 75 per cent in a decade, from $40.3 billion in 2004 to an estimated $70 billion in 2014.

He said the latest available debt data from 2011 also shows an alarming increase in Queensland properties deemed ‘non-viable,’ from 1 percent to 6.9 percent.

Senator O’Sullivan said with institutions as diverse as the Reserve Bank and MLA warning about the financial crippling of the rural sector in Queensland, there was an urgent need to conduct a debt survey.

He said it was “irresponsible” of the finance sector to dismiss repeated on-the-ground warnings that rural communities were facing economic decline.

“There have been warning signs for years that farmers were facing debt stress and the message I am hearing loud and clear is they want and need urgent action,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“In order to deliver relevant public policy, it is imperative that we gather the essential information to understand the true extent of debt profiles across Western and Northern Queensland.

“State and Federal Governments need to be on the front foot with this issue because, without any sense of exaggeration, I believe the debt crisis has the potential to change the face of rural Queensland – and not for the better.

“Meanwhile, the silence from the banking sector is deafening.”

Senator O’Sullivan said he would use his planned state-wide tour in the coming weeks to continue his pressure on the banks to participate in the debt survey.

“I have extended a fair and reasonable invitation to Mr Münchenberg. I have also repeatedly spoken about the importance of the banking sector’s participation in the rural debt survey process,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“If they fail to respond accordingly, I will have no option than to investigate what powers and measures are at the disposal of government to force their hands.

“With events in the financial sector in recent week, I am sure the banking sector won’t want government ferreting through their filing draws and wheelie bins.”

Media Contact: Troy Rowling 0400 386 666.