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Big bank takes farming family's full monthly income as tightens grip

 The drought is hitting hard on the Portegys family's dairy property. (A Current Affair) The drought is hitting hard on the Portegys family's dairy property. (A Current Affair)

A dairy farming family say they're at breaking point after claiming the bank took a full month's worth of milk income to pay for an overdraft. The green tinge on Daniel and Zellan Portegys's property masks the ugly truth that the drought is starting to bite even in tropical north Queensland.

To get through until the wet season starts, they needed to buy feed for their dairy cows.

And with every other drought-stricken farmer needing the same, the cost is through the roof.

"I was scared to ask the bank for help because they bullied us last time, but I just didn't want to lose my animals again," Mrs Portegys told A Current Affair.

Their bank is NAB, which markets itself as an agri-business specialist.

The Portegys's - who say they've never missed a repayment in their lives - thought it would be alright to ask their bank if they could switch to interest-only repayments for a few months, until the summer rains arrive.

Zellan and Daniel Portegys say they've been left reeling by their bank. (A Current Affair)

Instead, the bank gave them a $20,000 overdraft specifically to buy feed for their hungry stock.

Two weeks later, the family's monthly milk cheque for $18,000 arrived.

"(NAB) just took it," Mrs Portegys said.

"They left no money for food, no money for anything, just took the whole lot."

The couple needed to free up some money to feed their cattle. (A Current Affair)

Mr Portegys, aged 50, has now had to take on a second job delivering molasses to other farms in the region.

His hours are now more gruelling than ever, but he said he's grateful to have the job and getting away from the stresses of the farm actually helped.

"Mentally it gives me relief from that back there, which probably my wife misses out on," he said.

"I get to meet a lot of people in this job, and I appreciate talking to them too."

With the family's milk income quarantined, the bank is effectively in control of what expenses they can and can't pay.

Mr Portegys said his motorbike and tractor repayments had been rejected by the bank.

"These sorts of things you need, they're not just to play around on," he said.

NAB said in a statement it "acknowledged the hardship" involved and "will continue to engage with Mr and Ms Portegys and their Rural Financial Counsellor to ensure they are working through their financial situation and offering the appropriate hardship measures".

Mr Portegys said he hoped somebody involved could visit his property and talk him through the strategy, to give him confidence he wasn't in danger of losing the farm.

Leaving the land has become the only option for many dairy farmers, as drought forces their costs up but supermarkets continue selling home-brand milk for less than water.

Milk prices have been languishing at rock bottom. (A Current Affair)

Last week, it emerged Coles had not even been passing on the full 10c/L drought levy added to the price of milk.

Another 486 dairy farmers have left the industry in the past year, meaning Australia is rapidly facing a future of importing fresh milk from overseas.

"It's absolutely a crisis, it's an emergency," Brian Tessman from the Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation said.

Since A Current Affair became involved, NAB sent a regional manager out to see the Portegys family, and promised to give the couple control of their bank account again.

This article was first published by
Author: Dan Nolan

Last modified onTuesday, 10 December 2019 20:56

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