Federal Labor has announced several new drought policy initiatives, targeting access to social services, which it promises to implement if it forms government.
The Opposition is responding to concerns about the overly bureaucratic process farmers face when applying for financial support.
The federal government has acknowledged farmers’ concerns about the Farm Household Allowance application process, with consistent complaints about the difficult application process.
Labor committed to deploy 100 Centrelink Community Response Officers to work with people “facing drought or other adversity”. Labor will also fund two additional Mobile Service Centres, doubling the current capacity.
The new Centrelink drought workers would complement the work if Rural Financial Counsellors, focusing on helping drought impacted people access social services.
Community Response Officers will be sourced from the the 1,200 additional full time Centrelink roles Labor has pledged to create. A statement from the party said the drought workers would work on drought for as long as required.
Labor has also committed to supply $20 million to the Regional Economic Development Fund, to help stimulate local economies and support local jobs.
The fund is a continuation of a $35m, four year program established by the Government which is set to expire in June 2019.
Labor declined to specify the time period for its funding extension.
Labor said in a statement its Community Response Officers would “stop people falling through the cracks with quicker access to income support, and better links to financial counselling, and mental health services”.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is urging farmers to contact Rural Financial Counsellors for professional advice, and not to self-assess their eligibility for the scheme.
The Government recently extended the duration of FHAs from three years to four, and $190m in additional funding on top of the $954 fortnightly payment for couples.
The extra funding provides payments worth up to $12,000 for couple, while the asset threshold for the FHA will be reduced from $2.6m to $5m.
Labor has been critical of the government’s handling of FHAs, arguing lack of social support services has prevented many people in need from access financial support.
“The current drought has exposed the consequences of the Liberals’ cuts to Centrelink, with up to 15,000 – or two thirds – of eligible farmers missing out on the FHA,” Labor said in a statement.
Since its creation in 2004, 8000 people have received an FHA.
The federal Agriculture Department said there are 15,000 people eligible for the scheme who have not accessed it. However, it remains unclear how many of them want financial support.
The Turnbull Government are expected to announce further drought assistance measures shortly.