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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11747

Mrs HULL (7:53 PM) —I rise in the House this evening to speak on the Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009. In 1997 the previous government put in place the Green Corps and I would like to talk about that program. It was a national voluntary youth development and environmental training program for young people aged between 17 and 20 years. The involvement of the young people was to look after the environment through management and conservation and education. It was very important to the previous government to ensure that there was an improvement in biodiversity in the environment in those years and future years. The program was a positive step forward in ensuring a healthy environment was maintained and, in particular, it was very good in the Riverina region. I always felt it was so important for us to be looking after our environment in the local area so that it could be preserved for future generations.

In the coalition’s Green Corps program the volunteers would be doing things like removing weeds, replanting with local native species, providing extra nesting sites with the use of nesting boxes and developing demonstration sites. This was done on one particular site in the city of Wagga Wagga itself. I believe the whole community benefited from the project under the Green Corps which aimed to provide an attractive setting for activities like orienteering, mountain bike riding, walking and bird watching out at Borambola, just out of Wagga Wagga. It provided an improved amenity for recreation and improved understanding of Aboriginal culture, incorporating the team members into the community, conserving local flora and fauna and improving accessibility of the features of the Murrumbidgee River, which through the heart of the city and is a lifeblood of the Riverina region.

The projects also gave the teams that were involved in the Green Corps a broad range of experience in different areas of conservation. The participants were all involved in vegetation analysis, collection of seeds, researching and sourcing useful plants for medicinal purposes and bush tucker on our Wiradjuri land, and surveying and bush regeneration skills. It was a fantastic program for the team members to gain additional skills in teamwork, leadership, skills development and training processes, to establish connections with community and environmental groups and to improve their career and employment prospects. They gained real hands-on experience and really did explore the important environmental issues of our area.

The group that was involved at Borambola also did exercises during that program such as trust exercises, with high ropes courses, canoeing, archery and rock climbing, as well as management activities. At Lake Albert the team were involved in trail construction, site preparation, planning of vegetation, including trees, and minor construction work for the proposed walkway. They installed signage and some environmental fencing. I think that program went for six months and in that time they were able to complete the planting of 1,600 trees and shrubs, they put in place 20 nesting boxes, they constructed and installed 2,500 plants that were propagated, they developed five interpretive signs and two practice sites, they put in 1,500 metres of fencing and they constructed a granite board walkway and rock edging. They worked with a diverse range of groups, including the local Wiradjuri people, Landcare groups, Wagga Wagga City Council and clients from New South Wales Sport and Recreation.

Does this sound vaguely familiar? Am I speaking about what is currently in place? No, I am not. I am speaking about what was put in place in 1997. But if you listened to speakers generally here you could decide that what is being delivered to the House is a brand-new, innovative concept that has never been thought of before and that is entirely of the making of this current government. That just staggers me when I look at the issues that were covered and that I witnessed when launching projects under the previous coalition government program and then at the graduation of many of those fabulous young people involved. That program was designed in particular for people between 17 and 20. It was a very innovative program for its time and it was enormously successful. The project teams did things like removing woody weeds and exotic species like privet and willow, and they planted, guarded and watered native seedlings. They propagated hundreds of native seeds and, as I said, built enormous amounts of fencing, garden beds and paths. They put in irrigation areas and constructed picket fencing as well as doing many other tasks. All this was to ensure that there could be a healthy environment.

It was a training program for young people—a voluntary youth development and environmental training program. There were young people in that age range who had difficulty communicating with each other. Afterwards, after their graduation, you would be absolutely astounded at the amazing growth of these young people. They also received a senior first aid certificate and an OH&S green card. The first part of the course under the coalition’s Green Corps program was that every single member had to obtain a senior first aid certificate and an OH&S green card.

Another group in the six-month program built fencing enclosures, installed metres and metres of drip irrigation for water efficiency and planted thousands of trees and photographed their monitoring points. They established very valuable life and social skills. At every graduation there was almost a full contingent, and if there were one or two away it was because they had secured employment as a result of their involvement with the coalition’s Green Corps program.

I raise these issues to show exactly what our program was put in place to do, how very successful it was and how far from being innovative is the National Green Jobs Corps. The Rudd Labor government merged our Green Corps program, our youth development program, into mainstream employment services in July 2009. This meant that Green Corps ceased to be a youth development program and became more like Work for the Dole with an environmental focus. Obviously, the government has seen the error of its ways and has determined that there is a need for this youth program. I suspect that this is for a number of reasons: over 108,000 full-time jobs have been lost among young Australians over the last 12 months; over 71,000 young Australians have lost their job since the election of the Rudd government; commencements among traditional trade apprentices fell by 21.2 per cent in the 12 months to March 2009; the proportion of teenage Australians not in full-time education or full-time employment has risen under this government; the rate of unemployment for teenagers who are not in full-time education rose to 18.5 per cent in 2009, up from just 12.2 per cent in early 2008; about 176,000 people aged 18 to 24, around eight per cent of the civilian population, are not in the labour force or full-time education; and about 120,000 people aged 18 to 24 are unemployed and not in full-time education. There are about 295,000 people aged 18 to 24 who are not in full-time education, and who are not in the labour force or unemployed—this equates to around 14 per cent of the 18- to 24-year-old civilian population. I suspect that there is a need for a strategy to be created to try to look at how young people aged 17 to 24 will become engaged under this program. The only thing that is much different in this is that the age has been extended to 24 rather than 20 as it was in the last program.

It is very important to note that having our young people gainfully employed in environmental programs is not an innovative, newly designed or descriptive response by this government. The difference is that instead of having Green Corps money young people will now have income support payments on top of their normal Green Corps allowance. It is good that the government has seen that the coalition’s program was a valuable program. They obviously did not think it a good idea when they rolled it over and lost the focus of it. The reintroduction of this program, only changing the upper age to 24 and providing a supplement on top of an income allowance rather than the general Green Corps allowance, is something that I am sure will be welcomed.

Let us not be deluded and think that this is a you-beaut, innovative new program. This is the program that was put in place by the former coalition government, a program that was working and a program that led to some very good outcomes for young people, particularly in my electorate. Rather than be critical of the program, I am critical of the fact that it was lost in the first place by short-sighted thinking in July 2009, when this program was rolled into a general mainstream program, and that the recognition of the value of this program was not considered strong enough at the time. It was a very short-sighted decision and I am pleased to see that has been rectified and that the valuable lead that the former coalition government played in this role is now recognised. It is the right and proper thing for opportunities to be made available in the environment but there needs to be a sure-fire plan as to how these will actually turn into jobs and solve the significant issues of unemployment among 17- to 24-year-olds.

Rather than disagree with this program, I make the point that the program that was in place was a well thought out, very beneficial and very successful program and it should not have been subsumed into a mainstream program. It is good to see that the Labor Party recognises the value and worth of some coalition programs and is putting them back in place.