Safe for now
WHEN Ken Tucker walked into the offices of the Daily Examiner at 4.30pm yesterday he fully expected to be evicted from his Nymboida farm at 11am today.
He was given a last-minute reprieve, but is still facing the prospect of losing the property he has been developing for the past six years.
Mr Tucker has been involved in the beef industry for 35 years - including periods managing studs - has a PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics and has edited a book on economics.
He said that in 2005 he put together a 50-page business plan to develop the 162ha property and asked the bank for a $100,000 loan.
The plan was to develop the property in two stages - the first to do extensive fencing for cell grazing, improve water retention and soil quality; the second to introduce the stock.
Mr Tucker said the ANZ Bank accepted the plan but advised him to use a $50,000 overdraft facility until the environmental work was completed and withdraw the remaining $50,000 later to save on interest payments.
He said he followed that advice and, in keeping with the business plan, completed the environmental work in 2009.
Mr Tucker hosted field days to show other farmers what could be done to improve degraded land and, along the way, attracted about $75,000 in government funding for environmental works that had to be matched on a 1:1 basis.
It was after he completed the preliminary works he struck trouble.
He said the bank refused to provide the extra finance, leaving him with no money to buy live- stock needed to make an income.
With no income he has defaulted on his loan and the sheriff has been around to ask him to be ready to leave the property.
He was to be evicted today, but a phone call to the bank's head office late yesterday from the Daily Examiner offices has secured at least a temporary reprieve.
Mr Tucker said that as a result of that conversation he got a verbal agreement that he and the bank would engage in farm-debt mediation.
"They said they would consider it, but there are no guarantees," he said.
He said the bank wanted him to show how he would clear his $65,000 debt.
"I'm happy to do that because all that documentation is in my original business plan."
He would need to provide that documentation by next Thursday.
Mr Tucker said the bank must have believed his original business proposal was sound because it would not have loaned him the first $50,000 if it believed it wasn't.
He had provided a Casino-based rural financial counsellor with realistic figures on stocking rates and returns and, based on those, the counsellor calculated he would be able to repay the bank's loan within four years.
From Mr Tucker's conversation with the bank yesterday it appears a communication breakdown may have brought the issue to tipping point.
He said he had written the bank a number of letters, including ones seeking mediation, but it hadn't responded. The bank had told him yesterday they had written to him, but letters had been returned to sender.
The letters from the bank, he was told, also sought mediation.
If he is ultimately evicted from his property, Mr Tucker intends to set up a tent embassy on a neighbouring travelling stock reserve.
"I have no alternative until the bank releases any proceeds, whatever they realise, on the forced sale of my assets," he said.
He owes $65,000 and said real estate agents had valued the property above $650,000 about a year ago.
At 69 years of age Mr Tucker is eligible for a pension but has not made an application, believing that if he succeeded in getting the finances the business would succeed and he wouldn't need to draw on the public purse.
A bank spokesman said the bank was unable to discuss specifics of the case because of customer confidentiality, but repossession was the last resort and only considered after all other options had been exhausted.