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PM Scott Morrison names Vinnies among administrators of new drought support program

Drought support: Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) chats to farmer David Gooding on his drought-affected property near Dalby, on Queensland’s Western Downs.

THE St Vincent De Paul Society is playing a big part in new drought-support programs – that will allow rural families to access financial counselling, and pay for groceries and power bills as they fight one of the worst droughts on record.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Dalby on Queensland’s Western Downs on September 27 and named the St Vincent De Paul Society, the Salvation Army and other charities as administrators of the extended Drought Community Support initiative, effective immediately.

Dalby and the surrounding region has not seen rain since March, leaving rural communities struggling.

St Vincent de Paul Society’s national council president Claire Victory said the society welcomed the opportunity to continue to work in local communities to distribute the funding and ensure people on the ground could access the support they needed.

“We have a long history of working on the ground in local communities through over a thousand conferences in regional, rural, remote and urban areas,” Ms Victory said. 

“We have an ongoing relationship with these communities and are well placed to respond in the face of an emergency.

“Our members have been helping over 3700 farmers, farm workers, and farm suppliers and contractors since the beginning of the funding in December 2018.”

The Government said it was “pleased to partner with an experienced and trusted organisation to deliver this much needed support in drought-affected regions”.

“We’ll be pulling up our sleeves and getting on with this as soon as the funding becomes available,” Vinnies’ national council chief executive officer Toby O’Connor said.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Federal Government on this initiative and look forward to working in local rural communities to assist local government and community groups to bring dignity to the lives of people who are struggling because of the drought.” 

The Prime Minister also announced changes to the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) initiative to provide cash-strapped farmers and families with emergency payments of up to $3000.

“This isn’t welfare,” Mr Morrison said.

“This is really just helping people make sure that they can maintain viability.”

The Government has overhauled the application process and criteria for its FHA, that is part of an overall $100 million Federal Government pledge to drought-ravaged communities.

FHA is paid out at the Newstart rate to eligible farmers, and a recent review found there has been a low take-up of the allowance.

The Government estimated there were 24,000 farmers who would qualify for the payments, but fewer than 7000 receive it.

The Coalition has already made changes to simplify the FHA application process, but the Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie described the latest changes as a “radical simplification” of the “application process and key settings”.

“We will remove the requirement for business income reconciliation, change the time limit on payment from four years in total to four out of every ten years, simplify the assets test, recognise agistment as being part of primary production income, and redesign the application process,” she said.

“For the first time, couples will be able to apply for the payment using just one application.”

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