ON the same day the Nationals spruiked Coalition government policy achievements delivered in the first 12-months of Barnaby Joyce’s leadership, including for farmers and agriculture, one team member was outraged about failing to secure one big ticket item.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan is livid at a shock move revealed yesterday that’s allowed One Nation and Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson to sneak through the back door - using a Liberal party endorsed ticket – to run an inquiry into bank-lending practices impacting farmers.
Senator O’Sullivan has long advocated banking reforms to alleviate pressures for debt-laden farmers especially Queensland cattle farmers hit by compound impacts of drought.
But he boycotted the Senate vote yesterday that established the Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers which will attack issues like farm foreclosures and default practices.
The Senate Select Committee inquiry’s Chair will be elected via a nominee that will be chosen by Senator Hanson and is due to table a final report on or before October 18 this year.
It’s understood the deal struck to establish the new inquiry was a compromise deal between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Hanson, stepping back from One Nation’s demands for a Royal Commission into banking.
One Nation has denied horse trading on the inquiry but it was also a prime reason why now disqualified WA Senator an ex-farmer Rod Culleton split from the party late last year, after falling out with Senator Hanson and its two other Senators.
Senator O’Sullivan said he wasn’t unhappy about an inquiry being held into banking and the relationship between banks and rural lending, “because there has been any number of us who have been fighting for that for two nearly years.”
But he said he found it “challenging” that the government could make arrangements with new crossbench members that couldn’t be reached with their Coalition partners.
“That’s the difficulty I have,” he said.
“When you find these things out on the notice paper, it probably is no way to treat your neighbour.
“It’s not as if I haven’t tried to resolve some of these issues by sending signals previously to my Coalition partners.
“I’m not here for a good time; I’m not here for myself.
“I’ll continue to fight for arrangements in this place that benefit the people that I’m here to represent – not myself – and I just don’t think the current arrangements are giving people what they deserve, when they deserve it, on just terms.”
Senator O’Sullivan said the Nationals would have a delegate participating on the inquiry in NSW Nationals Senator John “Wacka” Williams who has constantly championed banking and farm lending reforms.
He said he also wanted “considered in this space” but intended to “speak out” about the deal that led to the inquiry, because he didn’t think it was in the best interests of his party’s constituency.
“If a banking inquiry is required, it was required two years ago as equally as it is today,” he said.
“If business is only done on market day, where your partner wants to go and be on another dance card with someone without at least involving your team in the decision, obviously in the fullness of time that’ll put a strain on relations, sometimes on an individual’s relations, which is the case now,” he said.
“I’m not speaking out on behalf of the National Party – I’m expressing my frustration as a member of the Liberal/National Party part of the Coalition who has wanted reform in this area for a couple of years but has held the line.
“And we all know the line, ‘we don’t need any inquiries into the banking sector’ but if we didn’t need any inquiries yesterday when we wanted it, what is it and what’s happening that we need one today?”
Senator O’Sullivan was frustrated the One Nation farm banking inquiry had ignored work he’d been doing over recent years behind the scenes, to make positive changes.
He said his office had put a “tremendous amount of work into a very, very comprehensive reform of the banking relationship with farmers and pastoralists and the government”.
“It has taken us quite a period of time,” he said.
“We’ve negotiated with the banks, we’ve presented at the Department of Agriculture; I’ve had discussions with the drought taskforce from AgForce; and I’ve talked about it and presented to the National Farmers’ Federation and its previous president,” he said.
“A lot of work has gone into it but now I suppose I’ll have to put it all in my wheelbarrow and trot over and sit in front of Pauline (Hanson) and see if it attracts her attention.”
Senator O’Sullivan said his work would likely attract Senator Hanson’s but it wasn’t about her.
He said in many respects, Senator Hanson shared similar views to the National Party but “we certainly don’t agree with all of her policies and we certainly don’t agree with the extent to where some of her policies go”.
But he said for the Nationals to continue to be relevant to their constituency, particularly in Queensland, “we’ve got to demonstrate an ability to do things”.
“Today (Senator Hanson’s) demonstrated her ability to do things in a way that I couldn’t so it’s just a matter of we’re going to all have to come to terms with these new arrangements,” he said.
“It’s not sour grapes or anything, because it’s not the first time.
“People are going to go where they can to get it done so this is really a short sighted arrangement by the government.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Pauline or (Nick Xenophon) - whoever appears to have the lever in their hands, well that’s where they’re going to go and that continues to diminish the ability of some of us who have been at this for a good while, to deliver.”
Greens spokesperson and Tasmanian Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said his party opposed the vote yesterday because too many inquiries were already underway and he did not believe it would lead to any effective reforms and only provide false hope.
Senator Whish-Wilson said such an inquiry would “drag” witnesses and banking CEOs to give evidence before public hearings but would fail to deliver any practical change.
He said the Greens supported a broader inquiry into the banking and financial services sector - not just one focussed on farm finance and lending - through the parliament, with powers similar to a Royal Commission to compel witnesses and collect evidence.
Despite no longer being a member of the federal Senate, Mr Culleton has been in Canberra and hovering around Parliament House for the first two sitting weeks of the year while continuing to address farm foreclosure issues.
Mr Culleton said he was opposed to having a Senate inquiry into farm banking at the time One Nation struck a deal with the government, believing it would be a “time-wasting” exercise resulting in “toothless” recommendations – and maintained that view.
He said the only way farmers could get a result was via a “fully blown” Royal Commission into banking that used its powers to exploit poor practices and expose wrong-doing.
“A Royal Commission is the only vehicle and until some of these bankers get jailed, nothing will change,” he said.
“This clearly shows One Nation has been flying the Liberals’ flag because they are diluting it.
“Nero is fiddling while Rome burns and the Liberals, Nationals and One Nation are all to blame.”
Select Committee on Lending to Primary Production Customers - inquiry terms of reference
(a) the lending, and foreclosure and default practices, including constructive and non-monetary default processes;
(b) the roles of other service providers to, and agents of, financial institutions, including valuers and insolvency practitioners, and the impact of these services;
(c) the appropriateness of internal complaints handling and dispute management procedures within financial institutions; and
(d) the appropriateness of loan contract terms particular to the primary production industries, including loan-to-value ratios and provision of reasonable written notice.