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Colbeck releases Government's blueprint for rural financial counselling.



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DAFF05/053C - 25 October 2005

Colbeck releases Government's blueprint for rural financial counselling

Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Richard Colbeck today released the Australian Government's preferred model for improving the management and delivery of the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS).

Senator Colbeck said the Government's preferred model was in response to an independent review of the RFCS - a free and impartial financial counselling service for farmers, fishers and small rural businesses.

"The review found that delivering the program's services via volunteers - despite their undoubted commitment to the task - was both unreasonable and unacceptable, and should be discontinued," he said.

"The Government's proposed model will see the RFCS program managed and delivered by a professional, State-based provider overseen by a national independent assessment and review board. Community groups - local and regional - will also play a more prominent role.

"The enhancements will significantly improve the service's flexibility and responsiveness, and ensure we have a free and effective, needs-based, financial information and referral service."

Senator Colbeck said the RFCS meets an important need, particularly for farmers in areas battling drought or in industries undergoing significant change.

"The Government remains committed to the RFCS program, and has funded it through to June 2008," he said. "And, as negotiations with the States on the new delivery arrangements are taking longer than expected, we are extending the existing arrangements with the local management committees through to June 2006.

"This means rural financial counsellors will continue to be employed under the existing arrangements, ensuring we have a smooth and effective transition period.

"And, before the new State-based arrangements come on-line, the national review board, State governments and local community groups will assess regional counselling needs.

"Once the negotiations with the States are finalised, we will commence a selection process to appoint the service providers. The successful applicants in each State would then begin getting on with the job, including recruiting counsellors in time for full implementation of the new service on 1 July 2006."

Senator Colbeck will meet with State ministers at the Primary Industries Ministerial Council meeting in Launceston tomorrow to seek their endorsement of the high level national principles for the program.

The RFCS programme is part of the Australian Government's Agriculture Advancing Australia package.

Further media inquiries: Senator Colbeck's office: Aaron Oldaker 03 6424 5960 or 0408 826 330

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