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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1440

Mr CUNNINGHAM(10.46) —I wish to raise a matter relating to an article that appeared on today's Age headed `Rising interest rates bring desperation down on the farm: Coming to terms with a human dilemma'. The article is by Deirdre Macken and relates to a Forbes farmer, Mr Roger Maloney, whom we saw Australia-wide on television evicted from his farm a couple of weeks ago. I quote from the article:

By the time the television crews arrived at Roger Maloney's farm in Forbes, Mr Maloney had not made a payment on his mortgage for four years, he had not made a deposit at his bank for 18 months and had not been living on the farm for five months.

The morning the television crews arrived, Mr Maloney returned to his farm. He took his children out of school and told police that he should be evicted. The cameras rolled, and another farmer and his distraught family were turfed off their property by an uncaring banker.

With the bankers knocking at the farmers' doors, the Maloney case became the pivot of media attention on the crisis in the bush. The downtrodden farmer with his family in tow provided the graphics for a complex story of financial ruin.

The article continues:

The impression generated by the Maloney case is as phoney as the eviction, because for every Maloney there are hundreds of broke farmers who will not be evicted-they will work their farms for the next few years until prices improve and their farms become an economic proposition.

. . . .

Banks hate panic as much as the media loves it. So, although grain producers are going through a crisis from which one-in-four will never recover, banks are loath to call in the sheriff in all but the most hopeless cases.

As a farmer myself and one who has been actively moving around Australia in the last 18 months, talking with the farm community and farmers in relation to problems in the wheat area, I get hostile when I see a situation that has been developed solely for the media in this way. A farmer who has not made a payment on his mortgage for four years, who has not made a deposit in the bank for 18 months, and who has not been living on the farm for five months can hardly be typified as a normal farm operation Australia-wide. He even took the opportunity of going back to the farm just for the cameras. He took his children out of school, as I saw on television, his wife was dragged from the front porch of the house and the children were crying. It was a very poor performance on the part of the organisers who set this up in order to create a crisis in the minds of city people. It is an irresponsible approach to these matters.

The banks have a problem of enormous proportions with land values around Australia collapsing, and I shall keep repeating this point as long as I need to do so so that the people of Australia come to realise that this type of approach does the rural sector no good. Thousands and thousands of farmers and their families around Australia would cringe at the knowledge that they were being portrayed as managers of this type, because it is certainly not true of the great bulk of Australian farmers. It is certainly not true of the great bulk of Australian families who live in rural Australia that this sort of thing should take place. It is time that those who peddle this type of information and who use the media in this way for sensational stories took a more responsible approach. It is only in the last three or four weeks that we have seen at last the crisis that has been portrayed being looked at responsibly by some people in the rural sector. Negotiations are now taking place between these farmers and the banks for schemes of arrangement to be put in place, where the value of the farmers' equity has slipped out from underneath them. We do not need this sensationalised approach of using families in this way to overcome what is a major problem for a very small minority of people. Those responsible for it ought to be ashamed of themselves and those who peddle it in this House as part of an operation to try to discredit this Government ought to be ashamed of themselves as well.