A review into why tens of thousands of potentially eligible farmers have not accessed social welfare programs won’t report until sometime next year.
The investigation of Farm Household Allowances was announced in July, an expert panel has been assembled and public inquiry is now underway – but the process to lodge submissions is still in development.
The federal Agriculture Department said the FHA review would make its recommendations in the first half of 2019. It remains to be seen how soon government acts on the findings.
While there are around 20,000 farmers potentially eligible for the FHA, just 2000 are receiving benefits.
The application process has been criticised as too onerous and confusing, with more than 70 questions.
CWA of Australia president Tanya Cameron supports the review initiative, but is concerned about the time it will take for it to make recommendations.
“Now’s not the time to hold off making changes. Surely there are things that could happen sooner to make it easier people,” Mrs Cameron said.
“People are falling through the cracks who could be eligible. They aren’t applying, or they’ve been found ineligible or they’ve found the application process too daunting.”
“This review could build up expectations there will be some solutions coming, but I’m concerned about how people cope with if they don’t come though in a suitable timeframe.”
The review will consider if FHAs:
- Reach farmers in need
- Remain fit for purpose
- Provide assistance while helping farmers to improve their long-term financial circumstances
Three experts comprise the review committee.
Michele Lawrence (review chairwoman) is a member of the Agricultural Industry Advisory Council and a dairy farmer from Tasmania.
Georgie Somerset is Agforce deputy chairwoman and a cattle farmer from Queensland.
Robert Slonim is Professor of Economics at the University of Sydney and former director of the federal Government’s Behavioural Economics Team.
About 8000 of Australia's 80,000 farmers received $230 million in FHAs since 2014.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced the review in June.
"The Department of Agriculture estimates there may be 19,000 farmers eligible for Farm Household Allowance who have not applied for it,” he said.
"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.”
Payment under the FHA is based on unemployment benefits, but in August additional lump-sum payments were added.
Couples in a household will receive two payments worth up to $12,000 and single households will receive up to $7,200, and the asset threshold was reduced from $2.6m to $5m.
The story Drought support review not due to report until mid-next year first appeared on Farm Online.