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Minister gets first-hand look at Murray-Darling Basin assistance.

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Senator the Hon Chris Ellison Minister for Human Services

Media Release Minister gets first-hand look at Murray-Darling Basin assistance 26 July 2007

Minister for Human Services, Senator Chris Ellison visited Griffith today to oversee the start of the Australian Government’s assistance package which will help Murray-Darling Basin farming communities through one of the worst droughts on record.

The $13 million initiative, announced in the 2007-08 Federal Budget, includes a Griffith-based Centrelink service delivery coordination unit, a Murray-Darling Basin drought bus; a dedicated hotline; and 23 additional Rural Services Officers, psychologists and social workers assigned to the region. The Centrelink unit will coordinate these services, create links with other agencies and focus assistance efforts to those affected.

“The Murray-Darling Basin is critically important to Australian agriculture, accounting for almost 40 per cent of the gross value of Australia’s agricultural production,” Senator Ellison said.

“The drought is placing a great strain on water resources and irrigation, and affected producers, irrigators and farm-dependent small businesses should be aware there is assistance available.”

Senator Ellison said the Murray-Darling Basin drought bus, unveiled today, will travel exclusively through the region over the next two years.

“The Centrelink rural experts on-board the bus can provide a range of drought assistance information, including income support, professional advice and planning grants, other Centrelink family payments. They can also provide referrals to other relevant state and local agencies,” Senator Ellison said.

“I’d encourage all producers and farm-based small businesses to talk with the bus staff, or contact the Murray-Darling Basin Assistance and Referral Line on 1800 050 015 for information on drought assistance and other useful contacts.”

Senator Ellison said the initiative represents a wider commitment by the Australian Government and Centrelink to improve services in rural communities.

“The Government understands people in the country have unique needs, and has already invested heavily in improving Centrelink services and access in rural areas,” Senator Ellison said.

“This includes specialist rural and Indigenous call centres, a national network of Rural Services Officers, the Drought Buses, specialist publications such as Rural News, and the expansion of Centrelink’s network of agents and access points.

“Information technology improvements are also helping overcome geographic isolation, with an increasing number of Centrelink services now available over the phone or via internet.

“Under its Serving Country Australia 2007-2009 strategy, Centrelink will continue to improve service options and ensure new programmes or initiatives meet the specific needs of rural residents.

“I commend Centrelink’s commitment to rural Australia, and I’m sure the new Murray-Darling Basin initiative will continue to build on this strength.”

Media Contact: Matt Francis - 0406 052 038.