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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7749

Drought


Mr WALLACE (Fisher) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Human Services. Will the minister update the House on how the government is supporting farmers in drought-affected Australia by guaranteeing essential services and making access to financial support quicker and simpler? Is the minister aware of different approaches to managing the economy that would hurt our farming communities?


Mr KEENAN (StirlingMinister for Human Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation) (14:59): I thank the member for Fisher for that question. Members of this House know that we are living through one of the worst droughts on record. That's why this government has announced the measures that we need to assist those Australians in need. The measures that the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources has just been going through will show that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Australians to give them the assistance they need to survive this severe drought that we know has affected so many.

In response to that, we've increased our direct assistance and concessional loans to $1.8 billion as part of the next phase of our drought package. Yesterday the government announced further measures to assist our farmers, including additional funding for local infrastructure and drought-affected areas, new tax breaks for farmers, the appointment of a national drought coordinator and low-interest loans. We've already, in 2014, introduced the Farm Household Allowance, which supports our farmers who are doing it tough. The recently announced package provides immediate relief and includes additional support for mental health services and community organisations. We're providing lump sum payments, in addition to regular fortnightly payments, worth up to $12,000 for eligible farming households from September this year.

We on this side of the House know that this assistance we have announced is urgent. We need to give farmers quick and easy access to payments and support and we've taken action to ensure that's the case. Within my department we have doubled the number of staff who are working on Farm Household Allowance claims. This means that people can call up and talk to someone who's knowledgeable and who can assist them to make sure that their claim can be processed as quickly and expeditiously as possible. We have also introduced staff-assisted claiming for farmers. That means that, if they can't complete their claim online, they can call us and talk to a knowledgeable person who can work through the claim process with them, and they can get assistance from a specialised staff member.

We're also taking immediate action to streamline the process. We request less information from people and we'll be able to use existing information to help them fill out their forms. For example, we could take the balance sheet from their farm or else a tax return and use this as a source of information. We're also providing that the people who can assist with drought assistance are going out directly into drought-affected communities on our drought assistance buses, particularly into regional New South Wales and Queensland. As this drought evolves, so will our policy response.

The danger for this is that of course we can only do this if we're running a strong economy. We can only do this because we've made the right decisions to make sure Australians have opportunities that they need. That means we're able to use the dividend from that process to assist Australians in need. We are the only people in this chamber who— (Time expired)