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Liberal & Nationals reaffirms support for Rural Financial Counselling Service

The Liberal & Nationals have reaffirmed their commitment to continuing the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS), following consideration of the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) review into the service.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, said the government supported NRAC’s recommendation to continue the free financial counselling service, but would not support the report’s recommendation to cut programme funding by 20 per cent.

“The RFCS provides a critical service to our farming communities, especially during tough times like periods of drought,” Minister Joyce said.

“This is why the Coalition Government will maintain budgeted levels for the service.

“We have listened to feedback from current RFCS service providers and other stakeholders on the NRAC review and it’s very clear there are different requirements for this service across regional Australia.

“The Coalition Government therefore does not support a mandated single service provider model for each state. I felt it was particularly important that the different needs of different regions continue to be reflected in the future programme.”

Additionally, Minster Joyce said the government would support NRAC’s recommendation that small forestry businesses have access to the RFCS. They will be included as part of the service under the next funding round on the same basis as other rural businesses.

“We will also offer the 14 current service providers an extension of their current contracts to 31 December 2015 to allow the Government time to implement some of the changes recommended by NRAC in a considered manner ahead of the next funding round,” Minister Joyce said.

“The RFCS has been a vital part of the rural landscape for the past 30 years—and during that period the service has evolved and changed to reflect the times. The Coalition Government is committed to supporting the service well into the future so that it can continue its important work.”

The RFCS programme provides grants to state and regional organisations to provide free rural financial counselling to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses who are suffering financial hardship and who have no alternative sources of impartial support.

The report on NRAC’s review of the RFCS was released in November 2014, and considered the effectiveness, current structure and future role of the RFCS, and in response to the report, the government has accepted 26 of NRAC’s 33 recommendations in full. The government has also accepted another four, in part.

Minister Joyce again thanked NRAC for undertaking this timely review into the RFCS and said that given it had been 10 years since the last review, it was important to ensure that the service was meeting the needs of those who relied on it.

For more information on the RFCS visit agriculture.gov.au/rfcs.

The NRAC report on the review of the RFCS is available on the Department of Agriculture website at agriculture.gov.au/agriculture-food/drought/nrac/review-rfcs.

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