TEACHING in south-west Queensland in the 1970s gave Mark McGovern a lot of insight into rural economics that is informing his efforts 40 years later to help make a rural reconstruction bank a reality.
He worked for some years with the Priority Country Area Program based in Charleville and visited properties across the south west. This brought him in contact with people in all sorts of situations.
"My first degree was in science and maths but I was studying economics part-time. It was interesting to compare their reality with what I was reading in the books," he said.
"The theory really is a guide only. On the ground, all sorts of things can happen."
It's the impact of "all those things" - weather, interest rates, lending policies - and the lack of decent options that is driving Dr McGovern's passion to help the rural sector find a way out from its debt crisis. Today, farmers are given mortgages with the expectation of regular repayments. However, farm incomes fluctuate, and that doesn't match the lending model," he explained.
"Exceptional circumstances support once meant the bank books balanced OK but now industry is fully exposed. ECIRS removal brought it all to a head."
Dr McGovern said the idea behind instigating an Australian Reconstruction and Development Board was to break out of this mentality and move instead towards finance that was more appropriately structured to rural realities.
"I want to see us move towards project financing and something that takes away the exposure to time limits, which is the real killer."
Now a senior lecturer at the QUT School of Business, Economics and Finance, specialising in international economics, Dr McGovern addressed the rural crisis forum in St George in February, with a number of slides highlighting the position rural Australia is in.
"One of them shows how you can make the same investment and get a very different result. People's ability to repay and reinvest changes," he said.
"A loan in the 1970s had a relatively easy run in real terms. Beginning in the 80s was much tougher, even with identical revenue flows."
"Insensitive" financiers in offices amalgamated to central points mixed with the availability of easy finance from the 1990s onwards set the scene for our current sub-prime exposures, Dr McGovern said.
"Australia itself is exposed externally. Agriculture, along with education and Australian-owned mining exporters can help solve Australia's deepening balance of payments problems."
This and a belief that the ARDB will provide options in the face of a looming global money drought, make him champion the rural cause.