Officials say “most staff” will be retained following a federal government restructure of the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
- A restructure will see Sunraysia’s Rural Financial Counselling Service become part of the Wimmera South West
- Officials say “most staff” will be retained
- The counselling services provide advice and assistance to farmers facing financial hardship
The Sunraysia service did not receive a grant to remain a standalone provider, and the Mildura-based service will instead fall under the umbrella of the Wimmera South West region.
Wimmera South West’s office is based in Hamilton and will serve all of western Victoria from July this year to June 2024.
The Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) provides advice and assistance to farmers facing financial hardship.
The Sunraysia branch is one of two affected by the changes, with New South Wales Central to become part of the NSW Southern Region.
In a statement, Sunraysia RFCS executive officer Patrick Timmons said he was “very disappointed” not to receive approval for their application, but he expected “most staff” to be retained in the new arrangement.
He said staff would continue to work with their existing clients through the transition period, and under the new model.
“We see our primary focus and responsibility is to ensure that the transition happens seamlessly and that farming clients across north-west Victoria continue to have access to Rural Financial Counselling support as needed.”
The federal Department of Agriculture has been contacted for comment regarding the specifics of the transition.
Process of change
Member for Mallee Anne Webster said she understood some counsellors would have to reapply for their positions.
The Sunraysia branch currently offers small business counselling along with rural support.
“The counsellors there have applied for positions to remain, to continue offering services,” Dr Webster said.
Dr Webster said she was told the number of counsellors “on the ground” in the north-west region would be increased as a result of the restructure.
In a statement, RFCS Wimmera South West executive officer David Stafford said support to the north-west region would continue uninterrupted, albeit with a new name and 1300 phone number.
“We are glad to announce continued and expanded service to our communities across Victoria’s west,” Mr Strafford said.
“The funding enables us to build on the good work of two very strong rural financial counselling teams, now working as one.”
Sunraysia Victorian Farmers Federation spokesperson Bill McClumpha said the counselling service was vital, and that he hoped there would be no reduction in counsellors.
“It’s always been very important in lending a hand to growers in various industries facing continual challenges — packing houses going bust, wineries going broke,” he said.
While he hadn’t used the service himself, Mr McClumpha said he’d come close a few times in 40-odd years in the dried fruit or wine industry.
“During that time I’ve faced challenges I’ve been able to scrape through, but in the back of my mind it’s always been the comfort of something you can turn to that would be of immense benefit during a tough period of time.”