Major changes needed to improve access to drought assistance programs: Centre Alliance

Wholesale changes need to be made to Federal Government drought assistance programs to make them more accessible for farmers in need, Centre Alliance candidate for Grey, Andrea Broadfoot, believes.

Andrea said the current qualifying criteria doesn’t adequately consider each individual applicant on a “case by case” basis.

If she wins the seat of Grey at the May 18 Federal election, Andrea will seek an urgent meeting with the Agriculture Minister of whoever wins government requesting changes to the current guidelines.

Among her recommendations to the Farm Household allowance would be:

• Income generated from destocking made exempt from the criteria;

• Transport subsidies made available;

• Health care card eligibility made easier, and;

• Asset limit to remain at $5 million dollars.

“Our farmers are doing it extremely tough at the moment, and out of desperation when they do reluctantly reach out for financial assistance, are being unfairly knocked back,” Andrea said.

“Wherever I go throughout the electorate, I am hearing the same stories – farmers in desperate need of financial assistance being denied because they don’t meet the criteria,” she said.

“One constituent told me her family was knocked back for assistance because her income was $5000 above the threshold – that was only because they had been forced to destock their farm to purchase feed for their other stock,” she said.

“That’s simply not fair. The qualifying criteria needs to be more sympathetic to those sorts of situations.

“Other concerns have also been raised including the timing of application deadlines for some drought assistance programs typically November at the height of harvest, and the fact farming people are completing applications to agencies where information sharing should be able to auto-populate applications.

“We need to streamline systems and avoid the story fatigue experienced where ATO, BAS, Centrelink and other systems don’t talk to each other.

“People are spending valuable time filling in myriad forms, providing the same information, telling the same story often to different departments and people.

“The mental health impacts our farmers experience – including the unjustified shame they feel for having to ask for financial assistance – cannot be understated.”

Andrea said she also feared the impact the State Government’s response to the Eyre Peninsula Freight Strategy would have in the region.

“Every day I am hearing directly the outrage from Eyre Peninsula farmers – one of the State’s most productive agricultural regions – being directly impacted by the complete lack of infrastructure planning for freight via rail as part of a transport solution,” Andrea said.

“For the life of me I just can’t understand why the SA Government has completely ignored the main recommendations of the report to maintain the rail network,” she said.

“The report recommends keeping some rail to ensure safety of road users and preserve the amenity in Port Lincoln is essential. It calls for an investment of over $95 million in road upgrades if rail is not part of the mix.

“That will be another issue I will advocate strongly for if Centre Alliance is successful in winning the seat of Grey – the electorate needs a stronger and more powerful voice in Canberra, something they’re not getting at the moment.

“Boothby is consistently reported as the only marginal South Australian seat and to shift Grey seat from 13.8% to 1.8% margin last election and still have Grey ignored means we must work harder and rally our support base to demonstrate that our electorate cannot be taken for granted.

“I will be working closely with my Centre Alliance Senate colleagues, who analysts say will have the balance of power in the Senate after this election, and we will use the position to get the investments and attention that Grey needs.”

/Centre Alliance Public Release. View in full here.