Farm debt mediation
In Victoria it is compulsory for banks and other creditors to offer mediation to farmers before commencing debt recovery proceedings on farm mortgages.
Under the Farm Debt Mediation Act 2011 (the Act), farmers and creditors can access mediation for the efficient and fair resolution of farm debt disputes. At mediation, a neutral and independent mediator helps the farmer and creditor to confidentially reach an agreement about current and future farm debt arrangements.
Farm debt mediation is a simple, voluntary and confidential process that is quick, accessible and low-cost.
Mediation is provided through the Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC). The VSBC provides pre-mediation assistance to both farmers and creditors, including giving advice about their rights and obligations, giving farmers information on available supports, appointing a mediator and arranging the mediation session.
The cost of attending farm debt mediation in Victoria is subsidised by the Victorian Government.
Farm Debt Mediation Act 2011: recent changes
The objective of mediation under the Farm Debt Mediation Act 2011 is to provide for the efficient and equitable resolution of farm debt disputes.
A number of changes were made to the Farm Debt Mediation Act 2011 on 31 October 2022 to strengthen farmers’ rights to farm debt mediation, streamline the process and align aspects of the legislation with other states.
Key changes include:
- Administrative arrangements: The Victorian Small Business Commission (VSBC) now manages all aspects of the farm debt mediation scheme. This means that:
- - creditors now notify the VSBC directly of an agreement to mediate (for both creditor and farmer-initiated mediation).
- - forms for mediation, information, guidance on processes and supporting resources are now accessible via the VSBC’s website .
- - the VSBC is now the first point of contact for any queries about farm debt mediation.
- Definition of ‘farming operation’: The definition of ‘farming operation’ now includes aquaculture and forestry and timber production, ensuring a wider range of farms are covered.
- Creditor obligations: A creditor is now required to obtain an exemption certificate in all instances before taking enforcement action under a farm mortgage, including when a farmer has not responded to their creditor’s offer of mediation.
- Discretion to issue certificates: The VSBC now has some discretion in the issuing of exemption and prohibition certificates. This may include the VSBC refusing to issue an exemption certificate where they are satisfied that the farmer is justified in refusing or failing to mediate and the farmer intends to mediate within a reasonable time.
Support for farmers
Farmers who are going to take part in farm debt mediation are encouraged to contact their local Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS), or their solicitor, accountant, or another suitably qualified professional.
The RFCS is a free and independent service that can help a farmer prepare for mediation, assist them on the day of mediation and help them with any actions that need to be undertaken after mediation.