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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1101

Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaMinister for Agriculture and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:42): In summing up, I would like to thank senators who have contributed to this debate for their very thoughtful contributions. In particular, I would like to thank those senators who have brought their lived experience of either being from a farming community or being farmers themselves, and their deep love of regional Australia and the land to this debate.

Like Senator Hanson, we all recognise that farmers are the backbone of our nation. We are very, very proud of our farming communities. We're proud of the produce that they create and we're proud of the place in which they exist in our economy and in our communities.

This bill demonstrates our government's responsiveness to the needs of farming communities and to rural and regional Australia. It is an election commitment and we are once again delivering on the back of the election promises we made.

The farm household allowance program provides for up to four years of income support, as has been mentioned, so that farmers and their partners can take steps to improve their long-term financial situation. As they are on this payment, they will be supported to look at their farming business and to make tough decisions about whether to change farming practice, so the business is more sustainable going forward or to make the tough decision to enter succession planning to leave the land.

Farmers who are accessing the program are subject to income of on-farm and off-farm asset thresholds. From 1 September 2018 to 30 June 2019, the on-farm assets threshold, known as the farm asset value limit, was temporarily increased from $2.6 million to $5 million. To acknowledge the commentary around today, there is a lot of gear that you use to produce your on-farm income, such as water licences, headers and the like that are expensive. So increasing that threshold permanently to $5 million is absolutely an important part of supporting our farmers.

We also understand that our farmers are asset rich but cash poor and need support to improve their circumstances, particularly if they're experiencing poor climatic conditions. The bill also supports recipients to consider alternative employment or transition away from farming with dignity. The bill clarifies the treatment of deductions and incomes for recipients and it also goes to a range of other issues, which have been outlined by other senators here today. Essentially, the bill maintains the farm asset value limit at $5 million, clarifies the treatment of deductions and income for recipients, and helps farmers and their partners plan for their financial future.

In response to some of the issues raised by Senator Sterle, we have made changes to simplify the application form and process for farmers over this period of time. We've cut the form by a third; it's now five pages shorter. We've grouped together critical eligibility questions at the front so you can very quickly determine whether you're eligible or not. We've actually gone back to farmers to ask if it's user friendly. In response to the issues today, we have obviously had a review. I've read the review; I'm sitting with it, and you'll have a response very shortly from the government. So thank you for continuing to work with us on that.

It does deliver on our election commitment. Our government is resolute in backing Australian farmers to continue to produce their world-class food and fibre. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.