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Australian Government to enhance delivery of rural financial counselling.



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Home | Media Releases DAFF05/015C - 3 May 2005

Australian Government to enhance delivery of rural financial counselling

Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Richard Colbeck today announced the Australian Government would improve the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) program, following a review last year.

Senator Colbeck said the review was led by the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) - an independent body of farmers and agribusiness professionals - with the findings provided to the Australian Government in December 2004.

"The independent review committee, which Wayne Cornish chaired, visited all States and the Northern Territory last September, and consulted widely on the RFCS's efficiency and timeliness, the suitability of its administration, and its community management structures and delivery mechanisms," he said.

"While the review confirmed the need for rural financial counselling services - particularly during tough times, such as drought - it found the RFCS program needed improvements to ensure it best meets the needs of primary producers, fishers and small business people.

"It also recommended the program should focus primarily on helping people manage the challenges associated with industry change and adjustment."

Senator Colbeck said the Australian Government would move quickly to develop a range of improvements to the RFCS program, taking into account the review's key recommendations, including:

z ensuring consistency of delivery, supervision and skill standards, including

ongoing professional development z providing mobility of resources and avoiding duplication of government services

z alleviating the governance and administrative burden on volunteer management

committees, while maintaining the vital advisory role of local reference groups z facilitating more active and direct roles for State, Territory and local governments

z investigating alternative funding arrangements for the program.

Senator Colbeck said Ministers at the recent Primary Industries Ministerial Council meeting in Darwin had fully committed to considering possible arrangements for the future provision of rural financial counselling services across Australia.

"The Australian Government is looking at a range of options and potential delivery models - including several suggested in the review," he said. "It's a process that will involve close consultation with State governments and other key stakeholders.

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"The Government - in the coming weeks - will distribute further information and advice on key issues flowing from the review, and undertake detailed discussions with the States.

"Meanwhile, I want to stress that the Australian Government has committed funds to the RFCS program through to June 2008, and I have extended current arrangements with existing counselling services to December 2005, to help ensure a smooth transition to a strengthened program.

"Importantly, the Australian Government is committed to working cooperatively with the States in examining ongoing arrangements to ensure delivery of the best possible service to rural and regional Australia."

The RFCS program is part of the Australian Government's Agriculture Advancing Australia package. It provides grants to support a free and impartial rural financial counselling service to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses experiencing serious financial difficulties.

Listed below are the Government's key objectives for the RFCS program, as well as the key principles - based on the review recommendations - for moving forward.

RFCS program aims and objectives

The Australian Government is committed to a long-term vision of self-reliant, profitable, competitive and sustainable agricultural, food, fisheries and forestry industries. The RFCS program has the primary role of helping primary producers, fishers and small rural business enterprises manage the challenges of industry change and adjustment by:

z ensuring enterprises suffering financial hardship, and which have no alternative

sources of impartial support, have access to financial information, options, decision support and referral services z enhancing the capacity of enterprises to consider information and options to

implement their decisions to effectively manage change and adjustment z encouraging early contact and use of rural financial information services to

promote awareness of the benefits of early intervention in accessing information and available services z providing a needs-based financial information and referral service that is free,

effective, responsive and flexible.

Based on these aims and objectives, and taking account of the key principles listed below, the Australian Government will work with State and Territory Governments to develop and introduce enhanced arrangements for the RFCS program, to ensure the continued provision of a rural financial counselling service across Australia.

The key principles for improving RFCS program arrangements (based on the program review's recommendations)

z The corporate governance and administrative burden on volunteer management

committees should be alleviated, while maintaining the vital advisory role of local volunteer reference groups. z The governance arrangements for the RFCS program should provide sufficient

consistency of delivery, supervision and skill standards, including ongoing

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professional development. z There should be a focus on ensuring mobility of resources and avoiding becoming

unnecessarily 'institutionalised'. z State, Territory and local governments should play a more active and direct role.

z Alternative funding arrangements for the program should be investigated.

z Duplication of financial counselling services in rural and regional Australia should

be avoided.

Further media inquiries:

Senator Colbeck's office: Aaron Oldaker 0408 826 330

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2002-2005 | Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry | Other DAFF Ministers | Prime Minister

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