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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13383


Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (12:12): Whilst I welcome the member for Ryan's motion, this government has no credibility on the environment whatsoever. This is shown with the new Prime Minister continuing a controversial bill that would deny the rights to appeal projects developed on environmental grounds to allow all but those directly impacted with local interests. This denies people, anywhere in Australia—if there was ever an environmental issue about the Great Barrier Reef—not being able to have a say because they were not directly impacted. That legislation is still out there.

Their record is astounding: ranging from moving backwards on climate change, to risking our reputation for outstanding world heritage icons. The government disallowed the endangered community listing of the River Murray from the Darling to sea. The government also went against all reason and all advice and sneakily had the world's largest marine reserve re-proclaimed to undo the management plans that give them affect. So where is this government on the environment? It is nowhere. And whilst we might stand here and say nice things about the Green Army, it is not actually going to resolve the issue in front of us.

My electorate of Chisholm in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne is home to a variety of fantastic environmental groups, including Friends of Damper Creek Reserve, Friends of Scotchmans Creek and Valley Reserve, Friends of Wattle Park and many others. These amazing groups rely solely on volunteers from the community and receive little or no funding from any source—maybe some assistance from Parks Victoria and local council. The Green Army is not the answer to these groups and many of those involved are not young, but they are very enthusiastic and they are looking after the environment magnificently in my community.

The member for Ryan speaks of hundreds of these Green Army projects commencing throughout Australia, but to date none have commenced in my electorate of Chisholm and I have not heard of any being planned in the near future. One was allocated into my electorate, in the Chadstone food bowl project. But, sadly, when the group applied, they did not actually quite comprehend what they were going to be involved in in the overseeing of young people in a work type environment and they actually did not have the resources to dedicate to this sufficiently. They said that they would not take up the grant because they did not believe that they would be giving the best to the young people involved.

Before getting the job, the now Prime Minister promoted widely the need for real action on climate change. Where is he now? Taking action on climate change actually means reducing carbon emissions. It requires pollution levels to be reduced—significantly reduced. Creating a scheme which takes people off social security benefits and employs them into an army of very low-paid workers without any workplace safety, proper training or protection measures and getting them to plant some trees or do some weeding is not, in terms of emission reduction, practical action. Australia needs environmental solutions. We do not need to tanbark the country. The best solution to emission reduction still remains a price on carbon.

I agree with the member for Ryan that it is positive to see young Australians interested and participating in protecting our environment for future generations. Many of them are calling for that now. Labor believes that environmentally based work and training programs can be effective pathways to work for job seekers, as well as providing environmental benefits. Indeed, it was Labor, under the Keating government, who introduced LEAP, the Landcare and Environment Action Program, which was the genesis of many of these projects. But Labor agrees that we need to do everything we can to get people into work. Every individual who can work should be given that chance, but we know that can only happen with the appropriate support and protection.

The Green Army fails, purely on the grounds of human resources. Green Army volunteers will be paid the minimum wage for 30 hours a week. They will no longer be eligible for Centrelink payments and they will also lose any entitlements to rent assistance, healthcare cards and pharmaceutical allowance, leaving them no better off than if they did not volunteer. This, actually, is not assisting them into work and it is not assisting our environment. It is just a nice, packaged-up name with 'army' tagged on to it, which, I think, many young people have some difficulty with.

The government says that Green Army participants will be similar to the thousands of other young Australians who are in vocational training or education. But, unlike trainees or apprenticeships, participants in the Green Army are under the supervision of the Commonwealth and are denied the status of Commonwealth employees. They will be left in no man's land, unprotected by acts that protect other trainees and apprentices and not given real training opportunities. Many of them will not even walk out with a certificate of training to indicate they actually undertook these roles.

While the Labor Party has always supported training and learning opportunities for young people to help them find secure and meaningful employment, this program fails by offering no guarantee that participants will actually receive useful and accredited training to help them find secure future employment. It fails people into the future. Many of them have not transitioned into work and many of them will go through this because they have to or are on no benefits. What we need is real action for young people and real action for our environment.