Possible lifeline for rural business counselling in SA
Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has welcomed assurances from the Government that a successful financial counselling program for rural businesses in her electorate and elsewhere in SA might not be closing down before Christmas.
In Question Time today, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told the Centre Alliance MP that the National Recovery and Resilience Agency was reviewing assistance program contracts, including the Drought Communities Small Business Support Program, and would be making announcements soon.
“This matter has been handled as delicately and openly as we possibly can and I know that Shane Stone (Agency Coordinator-General), working with people on the ground, we have tried to make sure that this has been a locally-led recovery of having boots on the ground... “ Minister Littleproud said, speaking on behalf of the Minister for Emergency Management, National Recovery, and Resilience.
The $14 million Drought Communities Small Business Support Program began in July 2020 and employed 22 small business counsellors in regional communities over 12 months, including eight in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Rebekha successfully advocated for an additional $1 million to fund four of the financial counsellors for SA to assist bushfire-affected regions in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.
This additional funding doubled the SA/NT allocation to eight funded positions for a total funding allocation of more than $2.4 million. So far the program has helped more than 300 rural small businesses in SA/NT, including many in the Hills and on KI.
"In the aftermath of the fires it soon became apparent from talking to farmers and small businesses that our community was desperate for specialised advice and the State and Federal Governments needed to ramp up the business support services already being offered to drought-affected areas," Rebekha said.
"That support included general business advice but did not include counsellors who could directly assist farmers and small businesses recovering from bushfire.”
The Drought Communities Small Business Support Program was extended until December 2021. However, Rebekha said many small rural businesses in Mayo and South Australia were still struggling to survive within local economies affected by drought and then bushfire, COVID-19 restrictions, and now severe hail storms and rain events.
“Drought Communities Small Business Support Program has helped many off-farm rural businesses in my electorate who've experienced hardship and are still experiencing hardship,” Rebekha said.
“This program is doing a power of good for rural businesses right across Australia which is why I raised my concerns about its premature end in Question Time today.
“Those delivering counselling services in my community tell me they still have people who need support and the recent hail storm and ongoing rain isn’t going to ease tough economic conditions in our region.
“I welcome the Minister’s comments that support programs are being reviewed because they recognise that some regions are recovering at a different pace and I will certainly be taking up his offer to discuss the future of counselling services in Mayo.”