Thursday, 13 February 2020
Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2020; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
It gives me great pleasure to present the Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill No. 1 2020.
The Liberal and National government is steadfast in its support of our farmers and their families, now and into the future.
The flagship program to ease severe financial hardship is the farm household allowance (FHA). This is a package of assistance that includes an income support payment for farmers and their partners in financial hardship, regardless of the cause.
Since its introduction in 2014, over $398 million in payments has been made to more than 13,300 individuals. We are investing almost $2 million each week into rural communities through the program. This investment is possible because FHA is demand driven and uncapped—no-one who is eligible will miss out.
We undertook a comprehensive review of FHA in late 2018. The farmer-led panel made a raft of recommendations to refocus the payment and to make is simpler and easier to understand.
The Prime Minister released the government's response on 27 September 2019. He outlined a comprehensive set of changes that represent a radical simplification of key policy settings and the application process.
Our government has simplified and modernised the process, cutting unnecessary red tape. Since 1 February 2020 couples can apply using the same online form—telling their story once. This means more time for our farmers and their partners to manage their farm and improve their circumstances.
In relation to legislative changes, our government swung into action without delay. We separated the key elements and implemented each of them as soon as they could be rolled out. This is why there are three pieces of legislation—we have a process of continuous improvement.
The centrepiece of the first bill was the relief payment for people finishing their first four years of FHA in the 2019-20 financial year. We also made FHA available for four in every 10-year period. Lastly, we made a significant change to the way income affects FHA. For the first time, anyone whose farm business is making a loss will offset their off-farm income to the limit of $100,000 per couple.
The second bill took the income changes further. Anyone who qualifies for payment will automatically receive the maximum amount. This will give farmers and their partners certainty because their payment amounts won't fluctuate.
We simplified how we count assets. We changed from a two-step test to a single amount of $5.5 million—easier, simpler, better for farmers. Finally, in recognition of the benefits of advice and training, we increased the activity supplement to $10,000 per person.
The Farm Household Support Amendment (Relief Measures) Bill (No.1) 2020 completes the agenda outlined by the Prime Minister. The bill removes the provision in the Farm Household Support Act which reconciles the prediction of annual income with the actual amount received. Predicting income is difficult. Farmers have told us that loud and clear. This change brings FHA in line with the treatment of business income for all other social security payments. An estimate of current income will be used to calculate the rate of payment. The estimate can be updated as many times as needed during the year, but crucially it will not be used to look backwards over the year. This means farmers will not worry that a debt will be raised at the end of the year through this business income reconciliation process.
We are keeping a strong eye on public accountability. Regular sampling of records will be undertaken to ensure the right person receives the right payment at the right time. This approach achieves a balance of compliance activity while minimising regulatory burden. The bill also removes the 28-day time limit to conduct a Farm Financial Assessment. This assessment is used by the case manager to help a farmer identify a course or courses of action to improve their financial situation. While it is important that the farm business is independently assessed to check its long-term sustainability, we want flexibility for the timing. Therefore the time limit will be managed administratively by the case manager, taking into consideration the complexity of the farm business and the availability of the person conducting the assessment. The government has listened, responded and stepped up to help support our farmers now and into the future. I commend the bill to the House.