Thursday, 20 March 2014
Farm Household Support Bill 2014, Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading
The Farm Household Support Bill 2014 and the Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014 enact the Farm Household Allowance and replace the Farm Household Support Act 1992 and its outdated support measures. Introducing these bills confirms the government's commitment to help farm families in financial need, regardless of the cause. This is a permanent safety net available at all times, including when extreme weather events such as drought take their toll on farm income. It delivers genuine reform of government support for farm families and provides assistance and support to improve their long-term financial situation. It will provide eligible farmers and their partners with up to three years of payment, paid fortnightly at a rate equivalent to Newstart allowance or Youth Allowance for those under 22, a healthcare card and a range of other supplements, including up to $1,500 for a farm financial assessment and up to $3,000 to implement a financial improvement agreement. This will give farm families time to get back on their feet and the opportunity to take steps to improve their circumstances.
For those families in hardship now, who cannot wait until the commencement of the legislative allowance on 1 July, the government has brought forward the main eligibility requirements and introduced them through the interim farm household allowance. The interim allowance is an executive scheme that is already delivering support to those who need it. Already 249 applications have been received and 83 claims granted. The allowance forms a major part of implementing the intergovernmental agreement on the National Drought Reform Program, which was agreed by the Australian state and territory governments in May 2013. This national agreement recognises the importance of encouraging farmers and their families to manage risks and prepare for challenging times, including as a result of climate variability.
I remind the Senate that the farm household allowance is an uncapped, demand-driven program. This means no-one in need will be turned away by an arbitrary funding cap. I note the second reading amendment moved on behalf of the leader of the Greens, which calls on the government to expand the existing Natural Disaster Resilience Program to include a provision for drought assistance. While it is good to see the Greens supporting measures that could help farmers become more resilient, this is provided for separately under the May 2013 intergovernmental agreement that I just mentioned. The IGA aims to, among other things, assist farm families and primary producers adapt to and prepare for the impacts of increased climate variability and encourage farm families and primary producers to adopt self-reliant approaches to manage their business risk. It also provides a framework, the jurisdiction, to respond to needs during periods of drought. Putting drought assistance under the National Disaster Resilience Program is not appropriate, given drought programs are specifically provided for under the drought IGA.
Moving back to the legislation at hand, the second bill in the package, the Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014, will repeal the Farm Household Support Act 1992 from 30 June 2014 and amend legislation required for the operation of the farm household allowance. The bill includes a provision to enable a smooth transition for recipients of the interim farm household allowance who wish to apply for the legislated farm household allowance. The farm household allowance will improve outcomes for farm families through personalised support and financial assistance to develop skills or retrain. It will strengthen the government's support for farmers and, through them, rural and regional communities across Australia. The support these bills have received demonstrates that this is good policy as well as good common sense. I commend the bills to the Senate.