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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3841

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for the Environment) (09:37): Let me also begin by thanking the member for Grey. That is a very powerful story in relation to a community event, with a community impact and an impact on the landscape. He sets out precisely the sort of work which Green Army teams could hope to do in the future—land rehabilitation and land recovery—and, in so doing, provide support for communities and support for the way in which we can provide jobs, opportunity, training and community and environmental benefit. I cannot think of a better exemplar of the way in which a Green Army team should be developed, should operate and should work than the one which the member for Grey has set out. We are focused entirely on good outcomes for the community and good outcomes for the environment, whether it is land rehabilitation, whether it is riparian recovery, whether it is sand dune restoration or whether it is replanting of native species. A particular personal and policy focus of mine is the encouragement of areas for threatened species recovery. These are all worthy goals—all with a strong history of a very successful program in the previous Green Corps and that also deal with emissions reduction. So it ticks all the boxes with all of these things—emissions reduction—

Mr Perrett: Maybe even combat climate change.

Mr HUNT: or climate change, mitigation, abatement. These are all of the things that we would want to achieve. It actually does things rather than simply taxing things, and that, I would say to the member for Moreton, is the important difference. He supports an electricity tax; we do not. We support practical action on the ground to reduce emissions, to reduce landscape degradation and to encourage support for workers—for people who want to create a future for themselves.

So having said that, let me deal briefly with some of the issues raised during the course of the debate in the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014, or what I would call the Green Army bill. During the course of the debate, some issues have been raised in relation to employment status. Let me make it clear that the employment status proposed under the Green Army bill is exactly the same arrangement that existed under the previous government's National Green Jobs Corps program. Participants will not be engaged in traditional full-time employment. They will be engaging in work experience-style activities for up to 30 hours per week. I would say it is not accurate in relation to the claims made by some to suggest this means they will not be provided with relevant protections or that they will be low-paid workers. Their wages will be higher than they would have been on Newstart, and they are higher than they would have been under the previous Green Jobs Corps program. This is, again, exactly the same arrangement that existed under the Green Jobs Corps program, but with higher funds. It is pretty significant, I would have thought. It is not a program where people would be expected to be or classified as being in a situation of existing employment opportunities. It is not a replacement for that. It is training. It is work experience. It is hands-on practical action for the environment. Most significantly, this $525 million program over four years and $800 million program over five years will work hand in hand with Landcare groups. It is Landcare extension funding. It is very significant funding so as to allow practical work with Landcare groups, within the terms of the funding arrangements.

Let me deal with the second issue, and that is the claims by some in relation to the allowances. We are creating a specific allowance that is overwhelmingly higher than the previous Green Jobs Corps program, Newstart and Youth Allowance. It is a fact that has not actually been contested on any factual basis. General assertions have been made, which are false, untrue, incorrect and inaccurate. The hourly rate of the Green Army allowance is commensurate with trainee hourly wage rates. Participants are not engaged in traditional full-time employment for a 38-hour week, and Green Army participants, as I said, will be engaged in activities for up to 30 hours per week. The program will provide opportunities for young people to transition from unemployment or school to employment or further training while undertaking local projects in delivering environmental outcomes. It is a critical part of our earn or learn approach to opportunity for young Australians. This is a means by which in year 1, 2,500 young Australians; in year 2, 5,000; in year 3, 7,500; in year 4, 11,500; and in year 5, 15,000 young Australians can either be team leaders or be participants. It is a tremendous opportunity to build a standing national green army, a standing workforce of people who will do good work for the environment and engage in and receive training and benefits.

Having said that, I also want to deal with the issues that were raised with regard to the transition to and from income support. Let me make this statement as we set down the legislation, knowing that the statements carry all of the weight for the Acts Interpretation Act that they do. We have created an allowance for participants to allow for a seamless transition back to accessing support payments, if required. Labor's model was effectively a Work for the Dole, where a person received Newstart or Youth Allowance. This will be an easier program for young people. In particular, as soon as the participants have exited the program, their pre-existing payments will be reinstated. All they have to do is let Centrelink know that the Green Army project has been completed. If they are not in employment, their payments will recommence commensurate with where they were previously. I think that is very important to understand—a seamless but critical part of the earn or learn program.

The final claim that I want to deal with here is in relation to work health and safety protections. Our approach goes further than the arrangements that existed under the previous government's National Green Jobs Corps program. I have taken a strong, clear personal interest in this area. I certainly have made inquiries. I have issued instructions and I have been utterly focused on safety as the No. 1 priority. The previous Green Jobs Corps and before that the Green Corps were, in my view, exemplars in this space. They were examples of what should have happened as opposed to the way in which the Home Insulation Program was rolled out. Despite the fact that they were exemplars, we are going further. We are mandating work health and safety training for participants and extending the work health and safety requirements of the service provider.

Any claims that young people will have no safety protections are simply, categorically, absolutely wrong, incorrect and misleading. All participants in the program will be afforded the relevant protections under existing state and territory legislation and any applicable Commonwealth laws. Risk plans will be developed by service providers and agreed with government, and individual project risk assessments will be undertaken before activities commence. A rigorous work health and safety audit scheme will ensure independent audits of both service providers and projects within the program. All parties will be required to hold relevant insurance. The Commonwealth will also take out insurance for all participants in the program. Service providers will report regularly to government on the management of participants and project delivery, and an audit and compliance scheme will manage any contractual breaches. Those are the essential elements of this program in response to the claims.

Let me focus on the Green Army bill and the purpose of the Green Army. In Tuesday night's budget we allocated $525 million for four years and $800 million for five years. This is a very significant Landcare extension fund. We want to work with Landcare and councils. We want to provide young people the opportunity to work in the field to gain the skills to have a real and lasting difference, whether it is in boardwalk construction, threatened species habitat rehabilitation or in programs for riparian recovery for clearing away noxious and invasive pests—practical action to improve the local environment whilst gathering work skills, work training and, wherever possible, a certificate I, a certificate II or other recognised training certificate.

Against that background, I want to thank all of the participants in the debate. I do want to thank the opposition for their cooperation. We may disagree on some of the arguments but I am hopeful that we will agree on the general direction. I especially want to thank the department and my office: Sean Sullivan; Peta Lane, who has had carriage of the program; her team; and Sarah Meredith from my office. This is an outstanding program.

The last person I want to acknowledge is the Prime Minister. I would like to have claimed that this program was my idea. It was not. He had conceived it over many long years of thinking and he proposed it. My job has been to help shape and deliver it, but all credit where credit is due for what I think is a fine idea which will have a practical benefit. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Port Adelaide has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question now is that this bill be now read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question agreed to, Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie voting no.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.