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Government responses to farm poverty: the policy development process

  • Year: 2000
  • Author: Botterill, Linda
  • Journal Name: Rural Society
  • Journal Number: Vol.10, No.1
  • Country: Australia

Over recent years, the issue of farm poverty has been addressed by Government through a number of schemes, including the Drought Relief Payment, the Farm Household Support Scheme and, more recently, the Farm Family Restart program. The effectiveness of these types of programs can be influenced by the nature of the policy development process which led to their creation. This paper will examine the policy development process in the area of farm income support, and discuss how the solutions to particular policy difficulties are shaped by the structures and processes of Government and the broader policy community, comprising farm representatives and other interested lobby groups.

Agricultural economists, such as the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) have done much valuable work on the rural sector, as evidenced by their annual Outlook Conferences - looking at the economic impact of various policies and programs and suggesting how the efficiency and competitiveness of the sector can be improved. Likewise, sociologists have provided a lot of detailed information on the impact of the rural crisis on farm families and assessed the effectiveness of various government programs. The work of the Centre for Rural Social Research at Charles Sturt University and the Centre for Social Science Research at Central Queensland University are good examples, along with the earlier Henderson Report (Henderson 1975).

However there is a gap - between the economists' assessments of how farm businesses could become more efficient, and the sociologists' reporting of how farmers and their families respond to market and other pressures.

Among political scientists, work has been done on rural issues in the areas of rural politics (eg, Warhurst 1990), pressure groups (eg Warhurst 1985; Trebeck 1990; Halpin 1997; 1999), political parties (eg Costar & Woodward 1985) and on rural policies more specifically (eg Gerritsen 1991). However, little attention has been given to the policy development process itself.

This paper will apply several theories proposed by political scientists to the development of farm welfare policy in the decade from 1989 in the hope of providing a new perspective on government responses to farm poverty and to contribute to the development of good policy in this very difficult area.

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