North Queensland farmers can access telehealth and other supports
A new government agency has been established in the wake of the floods, called the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency. The Agency will be developing a long term plan to help rebuild the livestock industry, which will include new programs that will provide access to seed funding to rebuild on-farm infrastructure and restock herds.
The Agency will design, coordinate and deliver the long term plan for reconstructing the industry. It will assist in the design of programs to help with seed funding for fixing on-farm infrastructure like fences and water infrastructure and for restocking.
It will provide advice to the Prime Minister on how existing and new Commonwealth policies and programs can best contribute to the reconstruction.
The Government has written to each of the large Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADIs) who have lent to flood-affected farmers asking them to:
- not foreclose or force the sale of farms for three years
- defer interest and principal repayments where appropriate for up to three years; and
- commit to continue lending for stock and herd replacement, supported by grants from the Commonwealth government and with security over the stock rather than the family home.
The Government is working with individual banks to finalise the details of what each will offer. As part of the arrangements being discussed, the Government has offered ADIs low-cost loans which they would be required to pass on to eligible farmers in lower interest rates. This will help those farmers to stabilise their financial position - and is estimated to be worth up to $2 billion.
This relief would be available for existing and new agribusiness loans to primary producers in flood-affected North Queensland, and would not be available to multinational corporations and/or listed companies. A government agency will administer the loan mechanism and will establish a process for verifying that the lower interest rate has been passed-on to eligible farmers.
The Government acknowledges the steps that banks have already announced to provide assistance to those affected.
The Government is also providing additional assistance for small businesses and not-for-profits, boosting special recovery grants from $25,000 to $50,000. These funds will assist businesses to rebuild, repair and replace stock, plant and equipment.
Immediate assistance is already being rolled out; with well over $110 million delivered to flood affected communities in recent weeks.
The Government also notes the ATO are taking steps to provide assistance to flood-affected taxpayers by:
- Deferring the due date of tax payments and lodgements
- Remitting interest and penalty charges on tax debts
- Fast tracking income tax and GST refunds
- Encouraging monthly lodgement of Business Activity Statements where a refund is expected
- Allowing affected taxpayers to vary their December quarter tax instalments to nil without penalty
More help for telehealth services will also be available from 1 March 2019. A new time-limited Medicare item will be available from 1 March 2019 to 30 June 2019 to fund General Practitioners to provide care by telehealth (video conference) to people in flood-affected areas in Queensland. Providers and patients in flood-affected areas will gain immediate access to the health rebates for four months.
Summary of measures for flood affected farmers/businesses:
- $75,000 grants to farmers in affected areas. Receipts and invoices are no longer required.
- $50,000 grants to small businesses in Townsville, Cloncurry, McKinlay, Richmond and Flinders.
- $1m each for the local governments in Burdekin, Cloncurry, Douglass, Flinders, Wujal Wujal, Hinchinbook, McKinlay, Richmond, Burke, Winton and Carpentaria.
- Seed funding to rebuild on-farm infrastructure and restock herds available through the newly established North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency.
- Changing the mandate of The Regional Investment Corporation to allow it to develop concessional loan products for farmers.
- Low-cost loans to banks that would be passed on to eligible farmers to provide them with interest rate relief.
- $2.6 million to support the mental health of communities.
- Additional telehealth services.