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Thursday, 7 September 2000
Page: 20388


Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:48 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Farm Help—Supporting Families through Change is the government's key program for delivering income support to the farm sector. Farm Help is available to low income farm families who cannot borrow further against their assets and who wish to consider their future in the farm sector.

Farm Help is a proven, effective safety net for farm families if they fall into financial difficulties. The program helps farmers plan their future, on or off the farm. Since the scheme began in December 1997, nearly 4,600 farm families have received income support, nearly 4,700 professional advice sessions have been attended and nearly 500 farm families have received re-establishment grants.

Assistance available through Farm Help is flexible and can be tailored to meet the needs of each farm family. The program elements include up to 12 months income support at the Newstart allowance rate, professional advice to the value of $3,000 on a wide range of areas to suit individual needs (including financial, legal, business, career or personal advice) and a re-establishment grant of up to $45,000 for those farmers who decide to leave farming.

The government provided funding in the 2000-01 budget to extend all elements of the Farm Help program to 30 November 2003 and for program enhancements. The program, formerly known as the Farm Family Restart Scheme (FFRS), has been renamed Farm Help—Supporting Families through Change to better reflect the intention of the program, which aims to provide support addressing the individual needs of farming families, whether they choose to remain on the farm or exit agriculture.

The enhancements to Farm Help include a retraining grant of $3,500, case management of Farm Help clients and an increase in the net assets threshold for re-establishment grant recipients.

The retraining grant will be available to those farmers, and their spouses, who receive a re-establishment grant. The $3,500 retraining grant will focus on skill development through accredited training, including vocational training, to assist farmers and their spouses in finding alternative careers to farming.

All Farm Help clients will be encouraged to participate in voluntary case management. This will involve the development of an activity plan which will help provide farmers with a plan of action that is much more closely aligned with their individual needs and circumstances. The development and follow-up of activity plans will be compulsory for non-viable farmers.

The net assets threshold for re-establishment grant recipients has been increased for receiving the maximum re-establishment grant from $90,000 to $100,000. This increases the total grant payable to those farmers with net assets of $100,000 from $38,333 to $45,000. The grant will be phased down by $2 for every $3 in assets above $100,000 and the grant will cease to be payable when assets exceed $167,500.

The Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2000 includes amendments to reflect the extension of the Farm Help income support application deadline to 30 November 2003 from the current deadline of 30 November 2001, with payments being made until 30 November 2004. An amendment is also required for the provision for mandatory activity plans to be developed for those farmers who are assessed as non-viable. Amendments are also required for the renaming of the program to Farm Help. This will require the word `Restart' to be replaced with `Farm Help' in numerous sections of the FHS Act, and consequential amendments will be required to the Bankruptcy Act 1966, the Health Insurance Act 1973, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and the Social Security Act 1991.

The Farm Household Support Act 1992 disallowable instruments will require amendment to provide for the program name change, the retraining grants for re-establishment grant recipients and activity plan development for non-viable farmers. The development of activity plans for non-viable farmers and the issue of retraining grants for re-establishment grant recipients will commence upon proclamation of the Farm Household Support Amendment Bill 2000.

The extension of the re-establishment grant application deadline to 30 November 2003 and the increase in the net assets threshold for the re-establishment grant have already been implemented through an amendment to the Restart re-establishment grant disallowable instrument. The voluntary `case management' of Farm Help clients will be phased in from 1 September 2000 through administrative procedures.

The proposed amendments to the FHS Act will continue to improve the government's support for farmers and their families and through them communities across rural and regional Australia. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Sciacca) adjourned.