VICTORIAN Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh yesterday rejected claims by activist group Farmer Power that the state government was doing nothing to help dairy farmers in financial difficulty.
Farmer Power spokesman Chris Gleeson, of Crossley, made the claim this week after receiving a negative response from state and federal governments for more cash assistance to help farmers deal with low milk prices and high costs.
Mr Walsh said the state government had convened a meeting with banks earlier this year that elicited a promise to take a long-term view of farmers’ financial situations.
The banks had said “their books were sound” and any clients they considered to be in financial difficulty had been contacted since December, Mr Walsh said.
He said he had also met with the managing directors of Victorian dairy processors, who had also given him an assurance they would also take a long-term view in their dealings with any farmers in financial trouble.
“They do want the milk supply,” Mr Walsh said of the processors’ approach to struggling farmers.
Dairy processors and financial institutions needed to work with farmers to get them through the present tough time, Mr Walsh said.
He said he had also supported the request by the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria and Farmer Power to federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig for assistance.
“Historically it is the Commonwealth that provides cash assistance to farmers,” Mr Walsh said. “With drought assistance, with household support, that’s all been federal money.”
He said dairy farmers, through their national body Australian Dairy Farmers, should lobby the federal government for more assistance.
Mr Gleeson warned there would be a firestorm of dairy farms put up for sale or closed down by banks this year because of a lack of cash assistance from the federal or state governments.
He said the tough financial situation faced by dairy farmers could force 20 per cent of them to leave the industry.
However, Mr Walsh said banks could not foreclose on mortgage finance to farmers without first going through a debt mediation process.
“People in a difficult situation should avail themselves of the farm debt mediation process,” he said.