The increase to the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) announced by the prime minister over the weekend is welcomed in rural and regional areas where farm incomes have been smashed by the ongoing drought.
At the present, the FHA allows families to access a payment equivalent to the unemployment benefit, worth about $16,000 a year. This will increase by $12,000 as an additional lump sum available to families (with $7,200 for single households).
Significantly, the government has also lifted the threshold for means testing of family farm assets – land, buildings, machinery, vehicles etc. – from $2.5million to $5million.
The FHA is, as the name implies, a living allowance, to put bread on the table, pay for electricity, school fees, insurance and other living expenses. It is not designed to cover on-farm operating expenses like freight and feed as these are separately covered by other programs as part of the overall government spending on drought measures totalling $576 million.
These measures are applauded as are the mental health and financial counselling services being offered by the government but it is worth raising a couple of points and inconsistencies in government thinking when it comes to entitlements.
Anybody on an age pension is aware of the constant push by some conservative politicians to include the family home in the asset means-test for the aged pension. The argument being that these folk are in some cases asset rich because of the value of their family home and thus they should forfeit their entitlement to an aged pension. If the same rationale were applied to farmers the argument becomes a nonsense as farmers need their assets to perform their business functions and why should they sell assets to obtain a government benefit – just as, it could be argued, why should a pensioner be forced to sell the family home to qualify for an aged-pension.
It’s also interesting to note that the Family Household Allowance has historically been linked to the national unemployment benefit yet, the government appears to be acknowledging that this benefit is insufficient to live on and thus, in rural and regional situations, needs to be supplemented by an additional annual payment of $12,000 ; but not so for those unemployed in the wider community, why is that ?
I don’t begrudge rural families getting access to government funding in times of dire need but I am concerned about those who are struggling to get by on the dole who will not get a leg-up or pensioners who are constantly targeted as rorters because they want to access their entitlement to an aged pension and live out their days in the family home.
It’s about consistency and equality and probably the ability to lobby ; the squeaky-wheel principle, some would say.
Let’s just hope that for some it rains soon and, for others, that the sun continues to shine !