Wednesday, 23 October 2019
Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2019. We all realise how important food is to our nation. Our farmers feed our nation and they feed at least 60 to 80 million people overseas as well. At times of severe drought, that importance is thrust into national prominence. Since 2014, we have realised that, being involved in agriculture at this time with increasing costs of water, electricity, fodder and feed—all the costs that go into producing food and fibre for our nation have increased—if the markets and the value of the goods increase, it's well and good, but there are many times, like now, where the cycle is against you.
Everything is clustering against farmers who are in drought affected areas. They are unable to grow the crops or the pastures or support the animals because of physical lack of water. It's not just irrigation that's been brought into the spotlight; it's dairy farming, it's cattle production—all the things that we have been taking for granted. With the severity of this drought at this time, many branches of coastal rivers—you see plenty of water in them, but most of it is salty until you get up into the hinterlands. Some of the branches of these coastal rivers in my electorate have turned in a chain of ponds, rather like the Murray and the Darling have over time.
The Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No.1) 2019 is equally as important at this time because of the intersection of all these escalating costs generated by the drought. It's not just a drought program. As I said, being involved in agriculture, you're on very long cycles. When it's good it's very good but, when it's bad, you have to have incredible resilience. There are many people who are resilient, who have been excellent farmers and who have done what they could, but they have no income—and they haven't had income for many years. That's why the farm household allowance was increased in 2014, and, as the minister has said, we are now taking the next step to offer support.
The farm household allowance is virtually the same as Newstart. For those who qualify, couples get $1,000 a fortnight and individuals get just over $500 a fortnight. This is not charity; this is what everyone else in Australia gets if they're unemployed. It shouldn't be seen as charity. It's delivering to people who need it when they need it most. We've changed the criteria to make it more accessible to more people, given the situation that we find ourselves in now. The assets that the payments are judged against were upgraded earlier. On 1 July, the asset limit went up to $5 million. It started at a much smaller number, but that increased figure will allow farmers with mid-size farm to access it.
The other thing that we have adjusted is the amount of non-farm income that can be offset against losses. It used to be $80,000 but has now been increased to $100,000, which gives a much better idea of the true net position of a farming enterprise. We have also tried to make it easier by reducing the amount of paperwork, from about 30 pages down to 17 pages. A lot of farmers have partners that are involved in the same business, and now only one set of paperwork for those partners will be required—so you're not duplicating the red tape.
We have also changed the amount of farm household allowance from four years worth of farm household allowance in a lifetime to four years out of 10, which is much more generous and much more realistic—because most farmers are in the industry for their lifetime and many of them have seen droughts before. I remember the 1982-83 drought. It was devastating. Many good farmers walked off the land at that time. Hopefully, this measure will keep really good farmers involved in agriculture for a lot longer.
The farm household allowance will provide support for the basic necessities of life when the asset that they have developed is sitting there not earning income—just costing them income. We've allowed them to offset the forced sale of their stock as long as they put it into a farm-managed deposit account within six weeks of the forced dispersal or sale of goods and stock. So we've tried to help in as many ways as possible. There's also an ancillary payment of $1,500 to allow them to get financial advice. There are rural financial counsellors who will help them do that for free. They have been doing a great job, and demand is up. We've put more money into rural financial counsellors as well. There is also an incentive to diversify and do business analysis, do extra training and learn extra skills to increase their sustainability and build their resilience—to the tune of $4,000 during the period that they are receiving the farm household allowance. So we're not just giving a cash payment; we're trying to strengthen their business position during the time that they're receiving support.
The relief payment is the other important thing in this bill. We are adding a relief payment for those people who have struck the four-year barrier: $13,000, effectively, for a couple, or $7,000 or so for a single person. There are many who have argued for more. If the situation changes, we will always keep a watching brief to see what is required. But this bill definitely receives my support, because we do need to keep our really amazing Australian farmers in the business of producing food and fibre for our nation. As I said, it's not charity. It's just doing what we do for anyone who finds themselves unemployed with no income.