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Big banks to share data on drought-stressed customers with Federal Government

By National Regional Reporting Team's Anna Henderson and Clint Jasper, Wednesday October 10, 2018 - 13:29 EDT
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The taskforce will look at ways to better assist farmers and small businesses in drought-stricken communities. - ABC

A taskforce of banking, Government and farming representatives is set to begin sharing data on customer defaults to work on better targeted drought relief.

The Morrison Government has announced the Drought Finance Taskforce, which will aim to address financial stress on individual farms as well as communities.

The banks are expected to share some of the data trends and observations on credit card, loan and mortgage stress caused by the drought.

By looking at the impacts in particular geographic areas the Government is hoping to target financial relief to stimulate local economies, including extra money for local councils.

Banks will be under pressure to freeze repayments for individual business owners on the land and in communities where the drought is biting and the economic conditions are bleak.

According to the Government, senior representatives from the big four banks and Rabobank will be on the taskforce, which is expected to meet within a fortnight.

The National Australia Bank's chief customer officer of business and private banking, Anthony Healy, told the ABC the banks will share anonymous financial data with each other and the government.

"Obviously at an aggregate level, not an individual customer level, we have pretty rich data about growth rates, default rates, [and] customers in distress," he said.

"Obviously all of that data, insights and analytics we'll make available as it's required to the discussions we're having."

Mr Healy said the model the banks establish for sharing data will be useful in the future.

"I suspect that as the drought abates, we won't be needing to meet as a taskforce, but once the model's established it can be re-established whenever you need it — whether it be natural disaster, or a drought, or some other industry issue."

Small business focus

The taskforce will be chaired by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has acknowledged that farmers and communities are struggling.

"They are going through a really tough time," Mr Frydenberg said during a campaign visit with the Liberal candidate for the Wentworth by-election, David Sharma.

"We will be sitting down with the banks, working through a number of options to ensure that these communities, these farmers, these local businesses that have been affected by the drought get the best possible go from the banks," he said.

The Treasurer says the banks need to be sensitive to the pressures piling up.

"This is the wrong time to be hitting them with extra charges. This is the wrong time to be foreclosing on them," he said.

"This is the wrong time to do anything which makes their viability as a business that much more difficult."

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, drought envoy Barnaby Joyce and Queensland backbencher John McVeigh are also part of the group.

The official statement on the taskforce announcement states the group will "leverage resources and share insights on ways in which the Government and banks could further support drought-affected farmers and rural and regional small businesses".

The Prime Minister has called a drought summit in Canberra for October 26.

Scott Morrison went to drought affected Western Queensland within days of taking office.

In announcing the drought summit Mr Morrison said "helping farmers and farming communities" was his "number one priority".

Yesterday the Bureau of Meteorology , meaning there is now three times the normal risk of the climate driver associated with hot and dry conditions happening this year.


© ABC 2018

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