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Farmer unemployment benefits scheme is a failure



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Deputy Leader, National Party of Australia Shadow Minister tor Primary Industry i

Media Release For further information: Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600

Telephone: Facsimile:

06/2774193 06/2772053

FARMER UNEMPLOYMENT B E N E F IT S SCHEME I S A F A IL U R E

The Federal Government's ill-conceived experiment in placing financially stricken farmers in the hands of the Department of Social Security has failed.

National Party Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister for Primary Industry, Bruce Lloyd, said that by March 6 just 42 farmers had been granted Job Search Allowance (JSA) under the new scheme.

"This contrasts tragically with even the low estimate of the Minister for Social Security who last October said that 2000 farmers would receive assistance under the scheme," Mr Lloyd said.

"About 10 per cent of Australia's 125,000 farmers are facing immediate financial decimation and as many as 30 per cent are at risk."

He said the scheme's failure proved the folly of targeting unemployment benefits for farmers instead of offering household support as an income- tested welfare grant under the Rural Adjustment Scheme (RAS).

"Had the Government taken the more appropriate step of extending the welfare net via a refined household support system, I have no doubt thousands more farmers by now would have applied for and been receiving income support."

The new scheme seeks to provide income support for farmers assessed as being viable in the long term, but facing short term financial crisis and unable to borrow further.

By March 6, Rural Adjustment Authorities had received 321 applications for assessment according to the new criteria and issued 114 certificates in support of farmers claiming JSA.

The Department of Social Security (DSS) had received 88 claims for JSA from farmers with supporting RAS certificates, but granted only 42 applications.

Mr Lloyd said the DSS had also granted 223 claims from 352 applications for JSA to farm families, mainly spouses, under normal Job Search Allowance conditions during the same period.

Mr Lloyd said problems with the scheme were complicated by the failure of many DSS officers to understand how it was supposed to work.

He said he knew of several cases where DSS officers had ruled wrongly that farmers holding the RAS certificate were ineligible for Job Search Allowance after applying an assets test.

"Unfortunately, the DSS had failed to tell its officers that working capital and assets considered essential to the long term viability of the farm should not be included in the assets test.

"This sort of ineptitude doesn't engender confidence in an already flawed scheme."

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PA RLIA M EN TA R Y LIBRARY M IC A H 31/3/92