Dan Tarasenko and Lyndal Guthrie with their two-year-old son Leo during a visit to their farm by Labor leader Anthony Albanese, Labor's treasury spokesperson Jim Chalmers and Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. Picture: Supplied

Dan Tarasenko and Lyndal Guthrie with their two-year-old son Leo during a visit to their farm by Labor leader Anthony Albanese, Labor's treasury spokesperson Jim Chalmers and Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. Picture: Supplied

Stress of disaster loan scheme putting many primary producers off applying, says Quaama farmer

Stress of disaster loan scheme putting many primary producers off applying, says Quaama farmer

Agriculture
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One local farmer is warning the perceived stress around lengthy delays on disaster assistance loans is putting off many primary producers from even applying.

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One local farmer is warning the perceived stress around lengthy delays on disaster assistance loans is putting off many primary producers from even applying.

Quaama free-range Bresse chicken farmer Dan Tarasenko gave evidence to the royal commission after having two applications for government loans rejected, and while he is set to appeal the decisions, said the stress created by the process is worse than the bushfire emergency.

After fire tore through his property destroying livestock, he said the lengthy wait on disaster assistance loans could push him out of business.

Everyone is depressed, and not moving on. They are scared of bureaucrats, and don't want to harm their assessment by speaking publicly. - Quaama free-range chicken farmer Dan Tarasenko

"If I don't get this [loan] I don't see a future for us down here. The problems are too hard," he said.

"After all the work we've put in, my hand will be forced."

The government established a $2billion fund to assist fire-affected communities and wildlife, however Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since admitted during question time, the loans have been too slow to get out.

"To provide maximum flexibility for eligible businesses, loans of up to $500,000 will be offered for businesses that have suffered significant asset loss or a significant loss of revenue. The loan would be for up to 10 years and used for the purposes of restoring or replacing damaged assets and for working capital," Mr Morrison said in January.

Mr Morrison said the loans would have a repayment holiday of "up to two years", and accrue no interest over that time, and an eventual interest rate of half the the ten-year Commonwealth government bond rate of around 0.6 per cent.

"The government will be seeking the agreement of the states to provide these loans under harmonised, consistent terms and eligibility criteria," Mr Morrison added.

Mr Tarasenko, a serial entrepreneur, said his recent spending on capital investments like an abattoir and solar energy, thanks partly to grant subsidies, have been interpreted by assessors as expenses.

He said this has made his business appear unsustainable, which he says is far from reality.

"There's farmers still filing paper tax returns. What chance do they have [of lodging successful loan applications]?," he said.

"They are seeing what is happening to me and questioning why they should be applying at all.

"Everyone is depressed, and not moving on. They are scared of bureaucrats, and don't want to harm their assessment by speaking publicly.

"The irony is, I could be selling more chickens than ever before because people want their food delivered safely during the pandemic. They don't want to be rubbing shoulders with people in supermarkets.

"If we had got money in February, when we applied, we would have already paid a significant amount of the loan back."

He has sought help from a new Bermagui-based not-for-profit called Help Getting Help, formed during the bushfire emergency to help residents with everything from mental health to help navigating development applications and insurance payouts.

The organisation has also started a "nursery" for job creation, and with applications for grants, payments, allowances and concessional loans.

"The bit that government can't do is step in the shoes of someone asking, and see what they need," chair Anne Pullen said.

"If we can see why the agency has said no to their application, we tell them why and can support them through the appeals process."

The government just doesn't understand innovation and start-ups, and that people like me work for five years for free to get something going. - Dan Tarasenko

Ms Pullen said she hopes the organisation will soon service the entire state.

"You have to have people's trust first, because asking for help is a big deal," she said.

"The message we want to get out is if you need help, give us a call, don't second guess yourself.

"Dignity and help must be on the same side of the equation."

Mr Tarasenko said local farmers are restricted in using the loans to make their properties more resilient ahead of the next bushfire season, and he and others desperately need new dams, which aren't allowed under loan schemes.

"The only way we can deal with the mental health side is to feel better prepared," he said.

Mr Tarasenko evacuated the property moments before the fire destroyed multiple houses in the small town, and put two of his neighbours in intensive care.

He made his way to Bermagui where he joined the firefighting effort with the Tathra brigade, who had just 1000 litres of water on hand. He said he would not be surprised if, five months later, fire still burns on his property.

"Some fire crews are very lucky to be alive. Everyone is under enormous stress, and we've just been fighting ever since," he said.

"There's other government departments looking to help us out, but the bureaucracy is killing us.

"There's still a lot of bush left to burn, and it's very dry. Everyone is worried.

"I want to be in a more defensible position."

His Quaama farm is the only one outside France to commercialise the Bresse breed, and Mr Tarasenko said the Bega Valley climate is perfect for his business to thrive.

"The process has been a mess, and we are more sophisticated an operation than your average farm," Mr Tarasenko said.

"Our numbers are very poor and every day I go further into the hole," he said.

"The government just doesn't understand innovation and start-ups, and that people like me work for five years for free to get something going."

The story Stress of disaster loan scheme putting many primary producers off applying, says Quaama farmer first appeared on Bega District News.

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