Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud wants Australia’s big banks to join a scheme allowing farmers to set aside pre-tax income in good years to plan for tough times.
Banking executives will take part in a drought roundtable in Canberra on Monday where Mr Littleproud will ask the banks for a timeline for the provision of farm management deposit accounts.
Mr Littleproud claims the major lenders have already had two years to provide the service, but resisted because it would eat into profits.
“Time’s up,” Mr Littleproud told ABC radio.
Customers in capital cities could walk into a bank and offset their savings against a home loan.
“You should be able to do that for farming families as well,” the minister said.
The scheme allows farmers to remove money from their taxable income in good years by depositing it into a farm management deposit account.
Primary producers can withdraw the money during a bad year and pay tax on the withdrawal then.
Mr Littleproud said the government didn’t want to have to force the banks to adopt the accounts through legislation, calling on them to do the right thing.
“They need to look at their social conscience,” he said.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon accused the Nationals of pork-barrelling to hold seats rather than directing money into drought relief.
“After five years of doing nothing, David Littleproud now wants to blame the banks,” Mr Fitzgibbon told reporters in Sydney.
“Yes, the banks need to sharpen their pencil but farmers need the government to do something too.”
A push to simplify a welfare payment for drought-affected farmers will also be on the agenda at a meeting on Monday of national and state farming bodies.
The federal government recently extended the time limit on the Farm Household Assistance payment from three years to four years.
“This buys those farming families an additional year to give them the time to structure their business to get through this drought and prepare for the next one,” Mr Littleproud said.
But there’s ongoing concerns about the complicated application process.
Mr Littleproud said his department is working with Centrelink to make applying for the payment easier, but noted rural financial counsellors could also help with the process.