Following the bedding-down of the $420 million debt relief package for farmers, last week I announced an extra $5.9 million boost grant which will fund 17 full-time additional rural financial counsellors. The new counsellors will focus on regions and industries experiencing debt stress and where natural disasters and climate events have had a heavy impact on farm businesses. The announcement is part of the Rudd Governments Farm Finance Package. I know that many farm businesses are doing it tough and the Government is offering assistance so farmers can access free financial counselling services to help them manage debt and ease financial pressure. Rural Financial Counsellors provide a free, impartial service to support farmers, fishers and small rural businesses who are suffering financial hardship. The program aims to provide clients with access to financial information and options, decision making support and referrals to other assistance to help them manage change. The extra $5.9 million over two years will fund five additional financial counsellors in Queensland, three in New South Wales, three in Victoria, two in Tasmania, one in South Australia and three in Western Australia. The program delivers an effective, flexible and responsive service to those in need of assistance and operates as a partnership between the Australian and state governments and non-government, not-for-profit organisations that employ rural financial counsellors, with the federal government providing around 85 per cent of the total funding. Farm Finance is an initiative of the Australian Government designed to build the ongoing financial resilience of farmers who are currently struggling with high levels of debt.
As well as the funding for additional financial counsellors, Farm Finance has three measures: concessional loans for debt restructuring or productivity enhancement projects; a higher non-primary production income threshold for Farm Management Deposits; and developing a nationally consistent approach to farm debt mediation. For updates and more information on the Rural Financial Counselling Service, visit the Rural Financial Counselling Service website or call 1800 686 175.
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