THE federal government’s review of the rural financial counsellor program is routine and not necessarily a threat to the future of the scheme, a local counsellor says.
Terry O’Keefe, a counsellor for the Wimmera-South West region, said the scheme was reviewed periodically and this one had been flagged for at least a year. “There is no reason to think that there will be any major change,” Mr O’Keefe said.
His comments reinforce federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s assurances that the review was not part of the government’s budget cuts. The review will be completed in June next year.
The program provides free, confidential financial advice to struggling farmers and small rural businesses through a network of counsellors.
Mr O’Keefe said it was widely recognised that the scheme provided a valuable and cost-effective service.
“Most of the work goes unseen, but it’s a very effective service that has helped many businesses through difficult times.”
The Wimmera-South West region employs five full-time and three part-time counsellors and is one of five regions within Victoria.
Vince Thorne, also a counsellor in the Wimmera-South West region, said there was a push from the South Australian service for its statewide system to be rolled out in other states, replacing the regional system.
“That system might work in South Australia, but that’s a very different situation to what we have in Victoria. The existing system works best for Victoria,” Mr Thorne said.