Federal agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says the Federal Government has reaffirmed its commitment to continuing the Rural Financial Counselling Service, after considering the recommendations of a recent National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) review into the service.
Mr Joyce said the government supported NRAC’s recommendation to continue the free financial counselling service, but would not support the report’s recommendation to cut program funding by 20 percent.
“The RFCS provides a critical service to our farming communities, especially during tough times like periods of drought,” Minister Joyce said.
“This is why the Coalition Government will maintain budgeted levels for the service.
“We have listened to feedback from current RFCS service providers and other stakeholders on the NRAC review and it’s very clear there are different requirements for this service across regional Australia.
“The Coalition Government therefore does not support a mandated single service provider model for each state. I felt it was particularly important that the different needs of different regions continue to be reflected in the future programme.”
Additionally, Minster Joyce said the government would support NRAC’s recommendation that small forestry businesses have access to the RFCS. They will be included as part of the service under the next funding round on the same basis as other rural businesses.
“We will also offer the 14 current service providers an extension of their current contracts to 31 December 2015 to allow the Government time to implement some of the changes recommended by NRAC in a considered manner ahead of the next funding round,” Minister Joyce said.
“The RFCS has been a vital part of the rural landscape for the past 30 years—and during that period the service has evolved and changed to reflect the times. The Coalition Government is committed to supporting the service well into the future so that it can continue its important work.”
The RFCS programme provides grants to state and regional organisations to provide free rural financial counselling to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses who are suffering financial hardship and who have no alternative sources of impartial support.
The report on NRAC’s review of the RFCS was released in November 2014, and considered the effectiveness, current structure and future role of the RFCS, and in response to the report, the government has accepted 26 of NRAC’s 33 recommendations in full. The government has also accepted another four, in part.
Minister Joyce again thanked NRAC for undertaking this timely review into the RFCS and said that given it had been 10 years since the last review, it was important to ensure that the service was meeting the needs of those who relied on it.
NFF pleased to see RFCS will continue intact
- The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said it is pleased the Government will continue funding of the Rural Financial Counselling Service, and has welcomed its commitment to not support the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) report’s recommendation to cut program funding by 20 per cent.
“The Rural Financial Counselling Service is an essential service for farmers and their families, especially for those suffering financial hardship and those who have no viable alternative sources of impartial support,” NFF president Brent Finlay said.
“We recognise that there is room for improvement in the current system, to ensure that government funding is used effectively and efficiently while achieving positive outcomes for farmers.
“The NFF views many of the recommendations put forward from NRAC as sound; including the need for continued funding for the service, improved governance arrangements, improved monitoring and evaluation, and improved mobility of counsellors.
“We commend the Minister for accepting many of these recommendations. The Minister’s response largely aligns with the NFF’s position, as covered to NRAC through their review.
“Given Australian farmers operate in an increasingly variable climate, we welcome the government’s firm commitment to continue to back the extension of RFCS. The service helps farmers to develop the necessary skills and plans to navigate through tough times, such as the current drought.
“We look forward to continuing discussions with Minister Joyce over the coming weeks, with the aim of implementing recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
“It will now be important that the upcoming Federal Budget reflects the Government’s commitment to the service and ensures funding to the Rural Financial Counselling Service beyond 31 December this year.”
Sources: Federal Minister for Agriculture, National Farmers Federation. For more information on the RFCS visit agriculture.gov.au/rfcs. The NRAC report on the review of the RFCS is available on the Department of Agriculture website at agriculture.gov.au/agriculture-food/drought/nrac/review-rfcs.