Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation. Will the minister update the House on the steps the government is taking to support our farmers through the drought, including by implementing new initiatives to ensure farmers can access the essential services they require conveniently and quickly?
Can I thank the member for Murray for his question, and I also acknowledge that he is passionate about helping people in his electorate who have been affected by the drought. He knows that this government will continue to do all that we can to assist drought affected farmers in particular, all across Australia.
In the absence of rain, we must do all we can to keep rural towns alive and to help farmers through what is a very difficult time. As a result of the commitments already made by this government, the amount of direct assistance and concessional loans to aid drought stricken farmers is increasing to $1.8 billion. Through my own department, the Department of Human Services, we're increasing support to farmers on the ground when and where they need it by nearly doubling the amount of staff processing farm household allowance claims, which means that people will get timely decisions when they need assistance. We're also opening the doors of our service centres for longer, which will also assist farmers.
Last weekend, the Bathurst, Bundaberg and Kingaroy service centres, in the electorates of Calare, Hinkler and Maranoa, opened their doors on Saturday to provide extra support to farmers in these severely drought affected regions. This weekend, the Shepparton service centre, in the electorate of Murray, will open on Saturday as well. Specialist staff from my department will be on hand to provide farmers with personalised assistance to complete their farm household allowance claim forms and connect them with other services that they might be eligible to access.
We know that support at convenient times is essential to farmers who are struggling. We're providing specialised farm household case officers and a rural financial counsellor who will be able to offer free financial counselling and business advice to anyone who needs it. It's absolutely vital that farmers have a strong understanding of the assistance that is available to them and, given that farmers often have complicated financial affairs, that we do what we can to help them through the process.
We've recently simplified and improved the farm household allowance to make it easier for people to apply. We've cut the size of the form by a third, making it five pages shorter. We've also enabled online application through myGov, which allows people to keep in touch with my department and upload forms and important documents without the need to call into a service centre or to phone one of our call centres. Our government has been able to deliver these things due to prudent economic management, and we will continue to do all that we can to assist our farmers in drought affected areas.