This was first published by the Daily Telegraph and is published here with permission.
What if you hit the light switch and there’s no power? If that makes you nervous, what would you do if there’s no food in the supermarkets, or if food is so expensive that you can’t feed your family?
Farmers are the key to our food supply, but with the Banking Royal Commission hearing farmers’ terrible stories about their banks, you have to wonder if we’ve got our national priorities straight.
The more I hear the more I wonder: does Canberra have a plan for food security?
I’m heading to Queensland this week, talking to farmers. I’m looking forward to finding out more about banks closing-out loans on multi-generation farms and selling the land for half its worth.
I really want to get to the bottom of this, because while I understand the capitalist system and the banking system, I have a problem with foreclosing on farmers who are toughing it out through one of the east coast’s worst-ever droughts.
Seriously — are we losing the plot?
Farmers feed us. Farmers put food in the supermarkets and meals on plates in the restaurants. Farmers do productive things with land and water, and they make it possible for the majority to live in cities. We ignore them at our peril.
When I see the shabby treatment meted out to our farmers by the banks, I wonder if the bankers understand farming’s real importance.
Farming isn’t a bunch of slow-talking yokels who can be ignored because they don’t live in a flash suburb — farming is food security.
Our farmers need land and water, but we’re an arid continent where water is not reliable.
Sometimes the rain doesn’t fall. It’s not the farmers’ fault. So why are the banks closing-out loans and mortgages right when families on the land need the credit?
Just to remind everyone: 10 years ago a crisis came along that was not of the Australian banks’ making — the banks asked for a government AAA-rating, and the taxpayers obliged. The plight of farmers is occurring alongside economic trends: immigration running at a level that gives us a population of 35 million by 2050; historically high housing costs; historically high power and gas costs; and food prices rising above inflation.
Most of these trends are political. Food is not. However, the lack of political interest works against farmers. They’re not whingers or special pleaders — they’re strong, resolute people who tend to tough it out until it’s too late.
And they’re always working. They don’t have time to march in a city or sit on a Q and A panel. Farmers are producers, not noisemakers.
I want Canberra to recognise food security as a priority, develop a plan and start talking-up our farmers.
Here’s one idea that government could look at: allowing primary producers to carry-back their losses, for tax purposes, rather than carry them forward as companies do now.
If a farm made $1 million in the last financial year, and this year it loses $1 million, it should be able net-off its taxation burden, not wait a year to do it. It won’t fix the weather but it will allow farmers to absorb a bad year and get on with business.
The banks play a part too. They make a lot of money off farmers in loans, mortgages and overdrafts and there has to be a way that these smart people can devise credit systems for a security priority like primary food production. Mostly, government can put food security on the agenda and remind Australians that farmers don’t owe us a living — we owe our survival to them.
We’re a growing nation with rising costs of living and an agricultural sector still dominated by family businesses who are vulnerable to not only the weather, but the big banks. I can’t wait to get up to Queensland and meet our hardworking farmers and see where I can help. I’d love to hear from them before I get up there.
We have to support our farmers, and governments have to get real about food security, or losing power for a few hours might be the least of our nightmares.