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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 467

Senator DEVEREUX —My question is addressed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Is the minister aware that, as late as last Friday, farmers in New South Wales were being informed by the Rural Assistance Authority that the policy guidelines had not been issued for assistance under the RAS drought exceptional circumstances provisions? Would the minister advise the Senate when the guidelines will be issued?

Senator COLLINS —The guidelines were in fact issued last Wednesday—Wednesday, 24 August—and I expected that farmers would be able to begin accessing the support when business commenced on Thursday. My office received an inquiry from a New South Wales farmer on Friday who said that he had been advised that the new guidelines were not in place. As a result of that concern, I spoke to the New South Wales minister for agriculture, Mr Causley, this morning. He assured me that the Rural Assistance Authority in New South Wales was now approving support for drought affected farmers in New South Wales.

  In order to access the drought support, farmers have to satisfy the state RAS authority that their farm enterprise is in financial difficulty due to extreme drought conditions now and for two of the past three years. This guideline was put in to ensure that farmers who have obtained one good crop—and a great many of these farmers in fact did get a good crop last year—are not rendered ineligible for assistance because of that good crop.

  Under the RAS agreement with the states, policy guidelines are developed by the Commonwealth in consultation with the states. The role of the states is to assess the eligibility of farmers for support; to determine the form and level of the support, if any, and the most appropriate way of dealing with the particular circumstances facing the individual farmer; and to deliver funds and services in accordance with policy guidelines that are established by the Commonwealth.

  The policy guidelines provide a check list of matters to be taken into account by the state authority in determining the prospects of the applicant for assistance for long-term profitability and, therefore, eligibility for support under the scheme. However, it will be necessary for the New South Wales Rural Assistance Authority to exercise judgment in certain areas to ensure that support is provided to those farmers with long-term prospects who have been adversely affected by prolonged drought. I urge New South Wales farmers who believe that they may be eligible for support to contact the Rural Assistance Authority in New South Wales as soon as possible.

  Many of the problems facing the western division of New South Wales—I mention this particularly—have been highlighted and more sharply focused by the drought. These problems in the western division of New South Wales are structural problems. In recognition of this, I offered in a letter to the New South Wales government of 4 August to work with New South Wales to develop a regional package for the western division, with some Commonwealth funding matched by the state along the lines of the recently announced south-west Queensland strategy in the mulga lands of south-west Queensland. I do await the response of the New South Wales government to this offer by the Commonwealth. I hope that it will be a positive response.