Thursday, 20 March 2014
Farm Household Support Bill 2014, Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise to speak to the Farm Household Support Bill 2014 and the Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014. I indicate at the outset that the opposition is in full support of this legislation. I would like to speak briefly to the background of the legislation and why we are supporting this bill.
The bill provides the mechanism to implement the Farm Household Allowance—up to three years or 1,095 days income support payment—and ancillary benefits for farmers and their partners who can demonstrate financial hardship without the need for a climatic trigger. The Farm Household Allowance is to commence on 1 July 2014, and is set to replace the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment, otherwise known as ECRP, which was only available to regions declared to be in extreme drought.
The bill also acknowledges that the government has implemented the Interim Farm Household Allowance, otherwise known as the IFHA, from 1 March, and allows for the transfer of existing support scheme recipients to the IFHA. In addition to income support, the bill provides for the provision of farm financial assessments to assist farm businesses to plan for the future. It requires income support recipients to enter into, and comply with, financial improvement agreements to qualify for payment.
The companion bill repeals the Farm Household Support Act of 1992 and amends other acts. Together, these bills deliver a new legislative scheme to deliver income support to farmers and their partners who are experiencing financial hardship. The bill in fact delivers on what the previous Labor government committed to under the Intergovernmental Agreement on the National Drought Program Reform, the IGA, and provided a new nationally-agreed approach to drought programs including time-limited income support payments for farmers and their partners based on individual need. This agreement was achieved by the previous government on 3 May 2013 at the standing committee on primary industries meeting. Further to the FHA, the IGA also includes Farm Management Deposits scheme and taxation measures, a national approach to farm business training, a coordinated and collaborative approach to the provisions of social support services, and tools and technologies to inform farmer decision making.
The Labor Party supports the bill, but we have been critical of the Abbott government's slow response to the current drought. It is a bit like their slow response to opening up South Australia to mining, as I noted earlier. This is another example of a slow response by this new government. This bill should have been introduced much sooner to enable a more timely assistance to struggling farm families who have been suffering for some time. Labor is further critical of the Abbott government's decision to abolish a key COAG vehicle, SCOPI, in December 2013, which was working to progress drought reform. Labor will hold the Abbott government to account in progressing a long-term drought policy and calls on the government to reinstate the SCOPI, the Standing Committee on Primary Industries. Long-term drought reform, which was led by Labor in government, has not been progressed in the way it should have been by this government in six months, but we do support this bill.