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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13382

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (12:07): I rise to speak on the coalition government's Green Army initiative, which continues to deliver very positive outcomes, particularly for our young people and the environment in the electorate of Macquarie and, indeed, across the nation. With projects regularly occurring across the electorate, we are seeing firsthand the benefits of the program on the ground in both the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains.

While supporting local environmental work and heritage conservation projects across Australia, the Green Army initiative is engaging young people aged 17-24 years, and providing them with opportunities to learn new skills to prepare them for a career path they may not have considered before being given this opportunity and gaining this experience. With more than $700 million committed to Green Army projects across Australia over four years, it is making a real difference to environmental assets by restoring and protecting habitats, removing noxious weeds, planting native plants, cleaning up creeks and rivers and restoring cultural heritage places. Recently I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the benefits of the initiative for the youth who have been taking part and who are having a go even if they did not feel particularly interested when they first began.

There have been many projects in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains which have achieved wonderful outcomes for the environment. The Bushells Lagoon project at Wilberforce in the Hawkesbury is one I will mention in particular. The Green Army team that has been working on this project for the last six months recently gave a progress presentation on its challenges, achievements and experiences. The volunteers spoke proudly and confidently about the processes they had been through to re-establish the health of the degraded lagoon and surrounding environment, along with the skills they had learnt and the opportunities that had arisen for future career paths. The Bushells Lagoon project has seen the Green Army team working with the Hawkesbury Environment Network over six months to assess the health and habitat values of the wetland, to provide staged works to remove invasive weeds, to propagate a wide range of suitably local indigenous plant species and to undertake a revegetation program along selected sections of the lagoon's foreshores.

It was great to seek how much the hard-working participants have gained in experience, knowledge, comradeship and the opportunities it is opening up for them. They are outstanding young people who demonstrated great skill and capacity to apply their learning into transformational outcomes for the environment. Many of those working on the project have also brought a wealth of knowledge on board, through bachelor degrees in natural resource management, water quality, riparian management and animal science which was incredibly valuable. For many, it also sparked the desire for them to continue to work within this field. The volunteers also recognised that the work that had been achieved must be maintained in the future. The project has allowed many to realise they enjoy working with the environment and want to see the hard work that they put in continue to have positive outcomes and continue to be maintained.

These projects would not be possible without the brilliant work and dedication of the sponsors and team leaders of the Green Army. For the Bushells Lagoon project, it is the Hawkesbury Environment Network and the team supervisor, Andy Araya. These sponsors and team supervisors make the experience educational and fun for volunteers while restoring and protecting our precious environment. I particularly want to thank and congratulate them for their dedication and commitment. The Hawkesbury Environment Network project coordinator, Robin Woods, said she too could see the benefits of the Green Army initiative on both the volunteers and environment. Ms Woods said, 'The team on the Bushells Lagoon project had established over 1,000 plants, undertaken invasive weed control and actively engaged with several landholders to re-establish a healthy natural environment.' Many landholders also spoke of their appreciation to have had assistance in restoring the natural environment on properties. Now is also the time for more young people to get involved in projects, with the next round planned to commence around the electorate of Macquarie—again both in the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains.

The Green Army does provide young people across the country with a chance to take part in important environmental and conservation activities while at the same time receive training and skills. Participation is open to a diverse range of young people, including Indigenous Australians, school leavers, gap year students, graduates and job seekers. Participants must be aged between 17 and 24. I encourage the youth of Macquarie to get involved. You never know what you may discover about yourself and the environment.