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Budget 2009: Drought support continues for farming families.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Drought support continues for farming families

12 May 2009 DAFF09/243B

The Rudd Government has allocated $715.3 million in the 2009-10 Budget to continue support for drought-affected farmers, farm families, small businesses and rural communities.

Exceptional Circumstances (EC) assistance and other payments for farmers and farm families including EC Relief Payments, the EC Interest Rate Subsidy and Interim Income Support will continue unchanged.

In addition, the Government has announced a 12-month extension of EC assistance for small businesses and the continuation of the $20,000 salary and wages exemption for EC Relief Payments and the $750,000 off-farm asset exemption for the EC Interest Rate Subsidy.

The extension of these measures will help to ensure more farmers and small businesses meet the eligibility criteria for EC relief payments and interest rate subsidies.

A range of further drought support programs providing mental health support, financial information and other services have also been extended to 30 June 2010.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said the Government had delivered on its commitment to continue to support drought-affected farmers.

He welcomed improved seasonal conditions in some parts of the country, reflected in a steady fall in EC-declared regions over the last 12 months, but said approximately 20,000 farmers and 1,000 small businesses across Australia are still receiving EC assistance.

In July 2008, nearly two-thirds of agricultural land in Australia was covered by 74 EC declarations, including interim support areas. That has now fallen to approximately 44% of agricultural land, covered by 58 EC declarations.

Declarations changed following independent assessments by the expert National Rural Advisory Council, which makes recommendations to the Government.

“The Rudd Government will continue to provide support to families still in the grip of drought - as we committed to do,” Mr Burke said.

“We are finalising the detail of proposed reforms to the drought support system, which is about better preparing farmers for the future.

“But that doesn’t change our commitment to farmers still suffering from the current drought.”

EC assistance helps eligible farmers and small businesses experiencing a severe and prolonged downturn in income due to an exceptional event, including:

• EC relief payments (or income support) to help with everyday living expenses, paid fortnightly at the same rate as the Newstart Allowance; and

• EC interest rate subsidies of up to $100,000 a year, and up to $500,000 over five years, to help maintain the long-term viability of the farm enterprise or small business by helping them survive an exceptional event.

Other drought assistance measures extended to 30 June 2010 include:

• Rural Support Services - mobile drought buses, Rural Service Officers and enhanced Centrelink outreach services to drought affected communities in the Murray-Darling Basin.

• Mental Health Support for Drought-Affected Communities - provides crisis counselling services and helps to train clinicians and community leaders. • Drought Assistance for Schools - one-off, additional funding of up to $10,000 per school for government and non-government schools in EC-declared areas. • Family Support Drought Response Teams Initiative - provides whole-of-family

relationship services for farm families in rural areas. • Re-establishment Assistance - an exit grant of up to $150,000 for farmers who have decided to leave the land. • Professional Advice and Planning Grants - up to $5,500 to give eligible farm enterprises

access to professional business and financial advice and planning assistance. • Assistance to Isolated Children - provides help to families with children who cannot go to an appropriate state school because of geographical isolation.

The Rudd Government has also extended the Transitional Income Support program, which it established to assist producers coming off EC assistance who are still experiencing hardship.

This program has also been extended by 12 months to 30 June 2010.

For more information contact a Centrelink office, call Centrelink’s Drought Assistance hotline on 13 23 16 or visit