Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Farm Household Support Bill 2014, Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading

5:53 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


The Farm Household Support Bill 2014 is a bill to replace the Farm Household Support Act 1992.

It confirms this government's commitment to introduce a new farm household support payment, to help those in financial need regardless of the cause.

For more than two decades, the Farm Household Support Act has enabled the government to provide farm families with crucial financial assistance during times of severe hardship.

It was a lifeline for many farm families during the disastrous millennium drought of 1995 to 2009.

Australia is a dry continent with a highly variable climate, and drought is an obvious challenge our farmers face – but it is not the only one.

They must also adapt to changes in commodity prices, the fluctuating Australian dollar, competition from foreign producers both on and offshore—who can be heavily subsidised—biosecurity threats and the vagaries of the weather.

Farmers also don't have the good fortune of coming home to a pay cheque each week—they live and work with uncertainty—sometimes they get paid, sometimes they don't. And the amount they can get paid can vary considerably.

In spite of this, or maybe because of it, we are world leaders in agriculture.

Last year, the Australian agriculture sector generated $47.3 billion in gross value of production, making it one of the five pillars of the nation's economy alongside manufacturing, services, education and research and mining.

Our farmers exported $38 billion in produce to our trading partners last year – income that is vital to the nation's economy.

Australia is well placed to benefit from the growing global demand for quality food and fibre, especially from Asia.

But our farmers need the support of the Australian Government to reach their full potential, during both the good and the bad times.

The government will do everything it can to encourage and assist farmers to adopt smart risk management strategies so that they can grow and adapt in the face of climatic and economic challenges.

It is vital that we strike a balance between supporting farm families during hard times, and promoting the growth of a productive, competitive and profitable sector.

This government has a history of introducing measures to support farm families through hard times.

In 1999 we introduced the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment, known as ECRP, as part of the Farm Household Support Act to help farm families put food on the table during severe and unexpected adverse events such as drought.

At the height of the last drought, during the 2008-09 financial year, over 30 000 farm families relied on ECRP to meet basic household expenses.

The Government will honour its commitment to support farm families through difficult times and invest in the growth of a profitable and globally competitive agriculture sector.

That is why the government is proud to introduce the Farm Household Support Bill 2014 to the Australian Parliament.

The bill delivers once-in-a-generation reform of government support for farm families by introducing the Farm Household Allowance.

The Allowance will replace Exceptional Circumstances support and the existing Transitional Farm Family Payment.

This approach—to replace Exceptional Circumstances income support with a generally available income support payment—was confirmed in May 2013 by the Australian Government and all states and territories via the Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform.

This legislation will make the Farm Household Allowance a permanent feature of the agricultural policy landscape from 1 July 2014.

The Allowance will provide farmers and their partners in hardship, up to three years of household income support paid at the same rate as Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance for those under 22 years old.

But we know that some farmers, particularly those affected right now by severe drought, simply can't wait until the commencement of the legislated Allowance on 1 July to receive support.

That's why the government will bring forward the main eligibility requirements of the Allowance and apply them to the existing income support scheme, the Transitional Farm Family Payment, or TFFP, from 1 March 2014.

To reflect these interim arrangements and new criteria, TFFP will become known as the Interim Farm Household Allowance from this time. Those who have received their maximum 12 month entitlement to TFFP will be able receive an extended period of support.

The changes will ensure that eligibility requirements for the interim payment are aligned to the extent possible with the future legislated criteria for the Farm Household Allowance. This will also make it easier for farmers receiving support to transfer onto the legislated Farm Household Allowance when it is available.

While getting financial support on the ground to those who need it is clearly the priority, the legislated Farm Household Allowance brings with it a range of additional support.

The Allowance will deliver case management support for the farm families receiving it, as well as financial assistance to obtain advice or training to improve their situation.

They will also have access to the range of other benefits available to other Australians receiving social security payments, such as an automatic entitlement to a health care card.

It will also support farm families to educate their children. Parents receiving the Allowance automatically meet the income test provisions in respect of their child's Youth Allowance or the Additional Boarding Allowance under the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme.

In some circumstances, recipients will also receive the pharmaceutical allowance, telephone allowance, remote area allowance and rent assistance.

The three years of income support provided by the Allowance will give farm families time to plan for their future and take action to achieve greater financial security and self-reliance.

For some, the Allowance will be the lifeline that allows them to consider their future with dignity.

Whatever choice farm families make, the government is committed to making long term, positive differences in the lives of farm families receiving the payment.

That is why everyone who receives the Farm Household Allowance will enter into a Financial Improvement Agreement.

The Agreement will set out a plan of action for recipients that outlines their short and long term goals and the activities that will help them achieve those goals.

These activities could include professional, financial or farm advice; education and training; or re-employment services, depending on individual needs and goals.

To ensure our farmers can do what they do best, the workload in running a farm will be taken into account when deciding suitable activities and timelines.

Personal factors that may be affecting a farmer and their partner's ability to work towards improving their situation will also be taken into account in the development of an action plan.

Action plans are a proven, effective method of helping farm families plan for, and move towards, a financially secure future.

But Allowance recipients won't be alone.

Each farm family will receive support from a case manager who will help them develop an action plan that meets their individual needs.

Case managers will monitor progress against action plans, and put farmers and their partners in touch with relevant programs or services in their area, making it easier for them to access social support, financial counselling or employment services.

Case managers will provide farm families with a source of encouragement, support and structure to make decisions about their farm business and personal situation.

Decisions that may be difficult, but necessary nonetheless.

The Farm Household Allowance also delivers on the government's objective of making the agriculture sector more productive and globally competitive.

Farmers and their partners receiving the Allowance will each have access to a $3,000 Advice and Training grant to help them obtain the skills and qualifications they need to achieve their goals.

Research shows that farmers who engage in training and education run more profitable, adaptive and drought-prepared farm businesses.

Training improves confidence and willingness to adopt innovative technologies and best-practice risk management strategies.

Unfortunately, the cost of training and education can be prohibitive to those who would most benefit from it - especially when you consider the expenses incurred in travelling to larger towns and cities where training is often held.

Financial assistance for training and education is an investment in the future of our farmers.

Since the early nineties, successive governments have delivered advice and training grants to farmers facing hard times to help them improve their profitability and natural resource management or to transition into a new life outside of farming.

Feedback from peak farm bodies and program review panels indicates time and time again that financial assistance for training and education helps farmers help themselves.

This bill marks an exciting and important development in Australia's response to farm families living in an increasingly challenging environment.

The Farm Household Allowance is an ongoing demand-driven and uncapped program, so no family in need will go without.

It will provide much-needed certainty about the level of household income support available to the farming community into the future.

The Allowance brings farm families into the fold of personalised case management that is so effective in building confidence and skills in decision making and achieving goals.

It delivers on the government's commitment to invest in a more competitive and resilient agriculture sector by investing in relevant training and education.

The bill is accompanied by a second bill, the Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014.

This bill will repeal the Farm Household Support Act 1992 from 30 June 2014, and amend legislation required for the operation of the Farm Household Allowance.

Industry members will welcome farm household income support that is available to families when they need it, without the need for an Exceptional Circumstances declaration.

We are grateful for their ability to point out the strengths of previous programs and tell us what needs further work.

And we will continue to listen to them.

When the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that farming has helped shape our nation and will sustain our population and those of our trading partners in the years ahead – you know it's the truth.

Both sides of politics believe in rural communities and the benefits they bring to the Australian economy and way of life.

The evolution of national drought policy has attracted bipartisan support.

And we must continue to see a genuine approach by both sides to navigate the difficult policy issues that affect the lives of thousands of Australians living in rural and regional communities.

The bill will ensure that farm families in hardship have the same access to income relief as other Australians, regardless of the cause of their hardship.

The Farm Household Allowance will improve outcomes for farm families through personalised case management and financial assistance to up-skill or retrain.

It will strengthen the government's support for farmers, and through them, rural and regional communities across Australia.

The Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014 is a companion bill to the Farm Household Support Bill 2014.

Together, these bills deliver a new legislative scheme to deliver income support to farmers and their partners who are experiencing financial hardship.

This Bill repeals the Farm Household Support Act 1992 and amends other Acts.

Repealing the Farm Household Support Act 1992 is appropriate as all of the programs and payments under the Act are redundant. It also makes consequential amendments of a minor nature to other Acts to support the full and effective implementation of the Farm Household Allowance.

This Bill also includes transitional provisions to ensure recipients of non-legislated income support payments, including the new Interim Farm Household Allowance, can transition to the legislated Farm Household Allowance as smoothly as possible.

This Bill draws a line under past approaches to drought support, enables the Farm Household Allowance to assist our farmers and their families, and ensures relevant transitional arrangements are there to support those in need.

Debate adjourned.


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