A review has been announced of the Farm Household Allowance, which provides help for farmers facing hardship, particularly during drought.
Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud recently announced farmers could now receive a fourth year of assistance from the FHA. Previously they could receive three years of assistance.
The FHA was brought in by the Coalition in 2014 and puts food on the table for thousands of farmers facing drought.
“The Farm Household Allowance has helped almost 8000 of Australia’s approximately 80,000 farmers over the past four years as we’ve invested $230 million,” Minister Littleproud said.
“More than 80 per cent of farmers surveyed have said they’re happy with the structure of it and the assistance it provides. The current net asset threshold cut-off has been lifted to $2.6 million and farmers who are receiving less than $52,000 a year in income can apply for a hardship exemption regardless.
“The FHA gives dignity to farmers by putting bread and butter on the table. As well as complementing it through the Rural Financial Counselling Service, it’s logical to have a review four years in to make sure it’s providing what we expect and getting to those who need it.
“The Department of Agriculture estimates there may be 19,000 farmers eligible for Farm Household Allowance who have not applied for it.
“That prompted me to ask the question, why? We need to know the answer and this review will provide it. I’ve called again and again for farmers not to self-assess whether they qualify for the FHA. Farmers need to use the free help we provide–Rural Financial Counsellors–and talk through it with them.
“Government can’t make it rain and heartbreakingly we cannot save every farmer. We cannot make decisions for them about whether they should buy feed in the hope it will soon rain, or when to sell off stock. But we can and do provide free expert advice through Rural Financial Counsellors and I urge farmers to use it.
“I announced $20 million to extend the RFCS program recently as well as a Farm Liaison Officer for drought-affected Queensland and NSW, among other things.
“Drought policy should be based on resilience and preparedness and with other agriculture bodies, we’ve agreed to pursue the NFF’s drought strategy, which we’ll work on over coming months.
“Regarding mental health, I remind rural people they can now receive Medicare for counselling done through Skype, after the first face-to-face appointment which is necessary to build a relationship with the counsellor.”
Farmers wishing to know more about FHA eligibility should see their local Rural Financial Counsellor or call the Department of Human Services Farmer Assistance Hotline on 13 23 16.
FEDERAL DROUGHT MEASURES
FHA: launched July 2014; more than $230 million invested by the Federal Government to help more than 7,900 farmers.
RFCS: Some 130 counsellors helping 4500 people a year with business and commercial counselling and insights. Some $70 million invested by the Federal Coalition Government from April 2016 to June 2020 including a recent $20.4 million extension
Pests and weeds: Some $25.8 million over four years from 2015–16 to help manage pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas. This is in addition to the $50 million announced as part of the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper to support established pests and weeds nationally.
An additional $15 million has been committed to make sure wild dogs and pests don’t decimate lambing in drought-affected parts of NSW and Queensland, where lambing rates have increased from 30 percent to 80 percent after dog fences were installed.
Farm Liaison Officer: Minister Littleproud recently announced this position to aid farmers in Queensland and NSW.
Regional Investment Corporation: will deliver nationally-consistent loans including for farmers in drought. From this month up to $2 billion is available for the delivery of farm business concessional loans an $2 billion for water infrastructure loans.
Banking: The Coalition doubled the amount farmers could set aside from their taxable income and hold in Farm Management Deposits to $800,000 and changed the law to allow them to be used as offsets against a farmer’s mortgage. After relentless pressure from Minister Littleproud and his drought roundtable last month, NAB agreed to offer farmers a product which allows them to use their FMD as an offset against their loan, potentially saving farmers millions.
Tax: Accelerated depreciation for new water infrastructure, fodder infrastructure and fencing to help farmers prepare for drought, assist with cash flow and encourage on-farm investment. Drought-affected taxpayers who need support with tax debts can ring the ATO on 131 142.
Concessional Loans: More than $834 million in concessional loans have been approved to 1,527 farm businesses since the Coalition came to office in 2013.
Mental health: Aussie Helpers received another $1 million recently during the PM’s drought tour for an innovative counselling service accessed via SMS. The service offers private, professional mental health advice accessible from anywhere at any time.
Note: Freight and fodder subsidies are the responsibility of state governments.
Source: Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources