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Queensland producers experiencing financial difficulty will be better protected from 1 July when mandatory farm business debt mediation comes into effect says Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne.
The Farm Business Debt Mediation Act prevents lenders from foreclosing on farming properties without first offering formal mediation.
“This initiative of the Palaszczuk Government’s Rural Assistance Package replaces a previous voluntary scheme,” the Minister said.
“Now, by requiring lenders and producers to enter into mediation, we’re protecting our producers and farm land by ensuring access to an efficient and equitable process which benefits both parties.
“Mediation will support resolution of complex disputes without resorting to expensive, drawn-out legal proceedings, and ensure no producers are treated unfairly when at their most vulnerable.”
The process will be conducted by an independent mediator agreed to by both parties. All are expected to participate in good faith, provide all relevant documentation and attend with a preparedness to consider all propositions put forward.
Mediators will be appointed and accredited by QRAA (soon to become the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority), working with the Queensland Law Society and Queensland Bar Association to source qualified and experienced legal practitioners.
“QRAA has consulted extensively with stakeholders and organisations on both sides of the fence – from Queensland Farmers Federation and AgForce to the Australian Banking Association and Legal Aid Queensland,” Minister Byrne said.
“They have also leveraged best practices from similar schemes in New South Wales and Victoria, and adapted them for Queensland’s unique rural sector.
“The result is a program in which all interests are represented equitably.”
Farmers have the option to refuse mediation and undertaking the process does not stop lenders or producers from using informal negotiations.
The program applies to disputes relating to business debts secured by a mortgage and includes debts on farming land, water assets, vehicles, machinery and other assets used in the farming business.
A register of mediators, program guidelines and relevant information will be available on the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority website from 1 July.
Farmers currently experiencing difficulties should speak to their bank or financial institution as early as possible and seek advice from their financial advisor or the Rural Financial Counselling Service.