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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 27


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) (11:26 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

FARM HOUSEHOLD SUPPORT AMENDMENT BILL 2005

Introduction

The Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2005 will give effect to amendments that aim to improve the effectiveness and administration of the Australian Government’s Farm Help programme and to further ensure that it reaches low income farmers most in need of assistance.

The purpose of the bill is to reinforce the structural adjustment focus of the Farm Help—Supporting Families Through Change programme. It seeks to clarify the qualification provisions for entry to the Farm Help programme, and to enable ongoing communication with Farm Help Re-establishment Grant recipients to confirm that recipients meet their undertakings not to re-enter farming and to notify of a change of address.

Programme achievements to date

The assistance provided through Farm Help is flexible and can be tailored to meet the needs of each farm family. The programme provides up to 12 months income support at the Newstart Allowance rate; a grant of up to $5,500 for professional advice and training; the development of an activity plan customised to each farm family’s situation; and a re-establishment grant of up to $50,000 for people who decide to leave farming and sell the farm. Applications for the Farm Help programme close on 30 June 2007.

Farm Help has a long record of achievement. Since the programme commenced on 1 December 1997: over 9,000 farmers have received Farm Help income support, almost 8,000 farmers have taken up Advice and Training session and over 1,000 farmers have received re-establishment assistance.

To date, the Australian Government has expended an estimated $178 million on the Farm Help programme, with an estimated $8.7 million in the current financial year, a positive commitment to strengthening the resilience of rural and regional Australia.

What are the changes to the programme?

The following changes will be reflected in the Farm Household Support Act 1992 and in the Act’s disallowable instruments, the Farm Help Advice and Training Scheme 1997 and the Farm Help Re-establishment Grant Scheme 1997:

Amending the definition of farmer

To ensure that the Farm Help programme and the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment are consistent in their definition of farmer, the definition will be amended to ‘a person who has a right or interest in the land used for the purposes of a farm enterprise’. The distinction between the target groups for the two programmes is then made in the specific qualification provisions for each programme.

This amendment will not affect the eligibility criteria for a person applying for the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment. To avoid any impact of the changed definition on the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment, the elements of the definition of farmer will be moved from the general definition in the Farm Household Support Act 1992, to the more specific qualification provisions for the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment.

Clarifying the qualification requirements for Farm Help

For the purposes of Farm Help, a farmer is currently defined under the Act as a person who has a right or interest in the land used for the purposes of the farm enterprise; contributes a significant part of his or her labour and capital

to the farm enterprise; and derives a significant part of his or her income from the farm enterprise. However, this does not clearly state what ‘significant’ is, which is necessary to provide clarity to all parties, including applicants, decision-makers, courts and tribunals.

A new qualification provision for the Farm Help programme will define ‘significant’ for the purposes of Farm Help. That is, for a continuous period of at least 2 years immediately before they apply for entry to the Farm Help programme, the applicant has been a farmer; and has derived more than 50 per cent of his or her gross income from the farm enterprise; and has contributed more than 50 per cent of his or her capital on the farm enterprise; and has spent more than 50 per cent of his or her working hours in work on the farm enterprise.

I want to ensure that the revised income test does not prevent a low income farmer from accessing the programme if they experience a serious event outside their control. For example, a person may be unable to satisfy the income test because during the 2 year period, the person has experienced a flood, drought, bushfire or some other natural disaster; an unforseen extreme variation in seasonal norms; a market collapse; or serious illness or disability. Accordingly, a person will be considered a ‘full time farmer’ if they can demonstrate that they meet these circumstances and satisfy other qualification criteria.

Review of re-establishment grant recipients

The other amendments to the Farm Household Support Act 1992 will enable reviews to be conducted of re-establishment grant recipients, to confirm they are complying with their undertakings not to re-enter farming within 5 years of receiving the re-establishment grant and to notify of a change in address.

Provisions have been developed which enable the Australian Government to apply a penalty to a person who fails to advise that they have re-entered farming, and to apply a penalty to those who fail to advise of their change of address, all within five years of receiving the grant. These provisions will not be retrospective.

Conclusion

The Government remains committed to the development of self-reliant, competitive and sustainable rural industries. Passage of this bill will clarify the qualification of farmers for the Farm Help programme, ensuring that assistance goes to low income farmers most in need. It will also ensure that re-establishment grants are being used for the purposes intended, to provide assistance to persons in severe financial difficulty to leave farming should they choose to do so.