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Truss offers way forward on Exceptional Circumstances policy.



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HON WARREN TRUSS MP MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY

AFFA01/41WT 5 March 2001

TRUSS OFFERS WAY FORWARD ON EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES POLICY

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said today he was keen to work closely with farming communities and the States to improve the way Exceptional Circumstances (EC) support operates.

"Achieving consensus to reform EC will be one of my priorities at the ARMCANZ (Agriculture and Resources Ministers Council of Australia and New Zealand) meeting in Wellington, New Zealand this week.

"I want to assure stakeholders that the Commonwealth is prepared to maintain its substantial financial commitment to EC; however, I am a keen advocate of improving EC support arrangements.

"There has been wide-spread disquiet about how EC policy is operating, particularly the way many applications develop into adversarial contests with farmers often left disillusioned about the process.

"I have frequently expressed serious concerns myself about aspects of the existing policy.

"Major shortcomings of the current arrangements include the lack of involvement of key stakeholders, particularly farming communities and the relevant State. "I will be recommending stakeholders have more involvement in the assessment process to provide a more transparent process and to develop joint ownership of the scheme.

"At present, EC is seen as a ‘Commonwealth-only’ scheme because the Commonwealth is the sole decision-maker and also meets all of the costs associated with relief payments and most of the costs associated with business support.

"For example, in the two years of 1998-2000, the Commonwealth spent $75.9 million on EC, while the States only contributed $7 million to the scheme.

"The approach I will put on the table at ARMCANZ, is for the Commonwealth, States and affected communities to work cooperatively to determine whether a particular area requires EC assistance and, if it’s agreed, all parties should work together to deliver the required assistance as quickly as possible.

"With this in mind, I initiated a review of the EC scheme last year. As part of this review, I contacted my State colleagues and the peak farming bodies, and asked for their feedback.

"I also sought the advice of the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC), which is the independent body that currently assesses EC applications and makes a recommendation to the Government.

"These responses were considered at the ARMCANZ meeting in Brisbane last August.

"ARMCANZ Ministers requested that a workshop involving the NFF, NRAC and Federal, State and Territory officials, be held to suggest changes to the policy.

"There needs to be shared ownership of the scheme and the best way to achieve this is for the Commonwealth and the States to accept joint responsibility for the provision of EC farm business support.

"The Commonwealth accepts that income support, via the Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payment, is a Commonwealth matter and we remain committed to fully funding that component of the support package.

"While a number of issues still need to be negotiated, the workshop has provided ARMCANZ Ministers with a platform to develop a more cooperative, transparent and effective EC model.

"These principles offer a viable and practical alternative that should prevent EC policy remaining a political football which unnecessarily causes additional stress to farmers.

"I am also keen to ensure the improvements to EC policy are implemented as soon as possible," Mr Truss said.

Minister's office: Yvonne Best (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 415 772

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Last updated 5 March 2001

URL: http://www.affa.gov.au/ministers/truss/releases/00/0141wt.html Commonwealth of Australia 2000