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Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says more needs to be done to simplify access to drought assistance.

Mr Chester made the comment after attending a meeting in Bairnsdale today with local farmers and an expert panel appointed to review the Federal Government’s Farm Household Allowance.

Mr Chester said the meeting provided valuable feedback to the government on the most appropriate way to support drought-affected farmers and their families.

“I welcome the review being undertaken by the independent review panel, chaired by Michele Lawrence. We greatly appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback from a Gippsland perspective,” Mr Chester said.

“The comments from local farmers, both positive and negative, will help the government to develop programs and policies that actually make a difference in people’s lives.”

Mr Chester said there was strong support at the meeting for Rural Financial Counselling Service and Centrelink staff, who have been helping local farmers apply for government assistance.

“At the moment, there are about 500 individuals receiving some level of Farm Household Assistance support in Gippsland, with more than 100 applications still being assessed,” Mr Chester said.

“The feedback I am receiving is the application process is still too complex and it is discouraging some farmers from making applications.

“I will be taking that message back to Canberra, along with the need to ensure we work across all departments of government to support farmers, farm-related business and regional towns affected by the drought conditions.”

Mr Chester encouraged any farmers needing assistance to contact the Rural Financial Counselling Service on 1800 686 175 or the Department of Human Services on 13 23 16.

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