A 41-year-old man from Cunnamulla in outback Queensland has been arrested for allegedly claiming drought assistance he wasn’t entitled to.
On Friday, Queensland Police released a statement explaining the man had allegedly falsified documents and claimed more than $60,000 in drought assistance he should never have received. Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Major and Organised Rural Crime Squad on Thursday served a notice to the man, detailing his alleged crimes.
The man is facing 41 charges including five counts of fraud, 18 counts of forgery and 18 counts for uttering a false document. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries first referred the matter to police last month and an investigation commenced.
Queensland Police allege the man falsified and submitted documents in order to receive assistance from The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, who administers the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme. The Australian Government provides an array of assistance measures for farmers and rural communities impacted by drought and other hardship.
“This is a tough time for farmers and those impacted so heavily by the drought,” Detective Inspector Troy Pukallus said in a statement. “We take offences like this quite seriously as it has the potential to effect those who genuinely need and deserve this assistance.”
Assistance offered by the government include dairy support packages, farm household allowances, farm management deposits, taxation measures, rural financial counselling services, farm business concessional loan schemes, drought communities programs, managing farm risk programs, enhanced social support and pest and weed management.
The Farm Household allowance increased by $7,200 for singles and $12,000 for couples. The assets test also increased to $5 million from $2.6 million, while governments in individual states and territories have additional programs to assist farmers in hardship.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new funding allocation of $5 billion as part of the Future Drought Fund which he said would help rural workers through “non-rainy days in the future”.
The PM announced the Federal Government would initially commit a sum of $3.9 billion, which will increase to $5 billion within 10 years. Each year from 2020, $100 million would be released.
“Our response to the drought has to be the same – deal with the here and now, but also make sure we plan for the future,” Morrison told The Australian in August. “That’s what the Future Drought Fund is all about. Putting money aside for non-rainy days in the future.”
He said funding would support farmers and local communities when it wasn’t raining and guaranteed drought support to those who drive the nation. Morrison also explained problems vary from farm to farm.
The man at the centre of the false drought assistance claims is due to appear in St George Magistrates Court on January 22 next year.