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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3280

Mr NIKOLIC (Bass) (18:48): At the time that I was stopped by the adjournment debate, I was commenting on some mendacious claims that have been made about payments to Green Army participants and I would like to put the facts on the record in relation to those payments. The Green Army allowance is higher than Labor's Green Jobs Corps and Green Corps program, and the Newstart allowance and the youth allowance. For example, under the Green Army program, a 21-year-old participant will receive a fortnightly allowance of between $885.60 and $987. The Green Army participants will also receive up to 10 days personal leave during their placement. The hourly rate of the Green Army allowance is commensurate with minimum trainee hourly wage rates. Participants will only be engaged for up to 30 hours a week. Frankly, comparisons with the minimum wage and weekly incomes are highly misleading.

On the evening of 24 March, we heard the member for Scullin's contribution on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014. He was transfixed by UN conventions and the right to social security. He wanted more detail about how Green Army project participants could lodge complaints about their supervisors and complained that the minister had only mentioned the words 'climate change' once. The member for Parramatta made the quite extraordinary claim about the risks to participants who are 'unskilled, unfit and involved in a job they haven't done before'. You do not need to be Einstein to understand that the way you overcome a lack of skills, fitness and job unfamiliarity is by actually doing a job. That is exactly what we will do: deliver skills, knowledge and positive work attitudes to young people.

The comments that I have just articulated tell you everything you need to know about the Labor Party. We seek to provide an opportunity for young people to work and develop new skills. Members opposite want to provide avenues for them to complain and explore their UN-mandated rights to social security. It is little wonder that the once proud Labor Party drifts further every day from its connection to the Australian people.

I would also like to talk about transition to and from income support. Arrangements will also be put in place to ensure that the transition to and from income support is seamless. Upon timely notification by the participant, the arrangements ensure that they receive their allowance as soon as they exit the Green Army program. Participants will have a minimum of four weeks and up to 10 weeks upon completion of their Green Army placement to reconnect with their income support arrangements without a new claim being triggered. This is a unique arrangement implemented for Green Army participants. Service providers contracted for the program will be required to develop and agree a training plan with each participant, taking into account their skill level, project activities, training desires and career goals. These training plans will ideally assist participants in moving on from their Green Army placement.

It is in the area of health and safety that claims by Labor are most mendacious, particularly that Green Army participants will have inadequate safety protections. This is, of course, the axiomatic response of those with a union background—throw up safety concerns as a cover for naked self-interest. Consider the irony—OH&S concerns from a Labor Party that presided over the ill-considered pink batts scheme. What extraordinary hypocrisy. How sad that some people might be dissuaded from participation in the Green Army program because of these false claims. The truth is that the health and safety of participants engaged in the program remains governed by relevant statutes, regulations, by-laws and the requirements of the state and territory regulations in respect of workplace health and safety laws. The Commonwealth will also implement a WHS audit scheme for the program, involving independent WHS audits of service providers and the projects that they deliver. Insurances will also be held by all required parties, and the Commonwealth will take out personal accident and public and, or, products liability insurance for Green Army participants. This is consistent with practice for the previous National Green Jobs Corps.

In summary, the Green Army is a wonderful initiative. In Bass, it will make a real difference to the environment and local communities through projects such as restoring and protecting habitat, weeding and planting, cleaning up creeks and rivers and restoring cultural heritage places. In addition, participants will be paid an allowance and gain valuable skills in conservation management, teamwork and discipline. Waking up each morning with a purpose, with something to think about for the next day or the next week or the next month, will give them that spark that they need to move on to bigger and better things in their future.

In my electorate of Bass, the $3 million Tamar River Recovery Plan, the $6 million that I have secured for the North Bank investment and the initial $340,000 contribution for the Green Army projects that I have mentioned together demonstrate that this government will get things done. I am proud to be a member of a coalition government that has restored sustainable development to an integrated approach that demonstrates the real linkages between social, economic and environmental issues. This integrated approach will support significant social and economic opportunities at a regional level, well beyond the initial environmental challenge identified in the Tamar Estuary—long neglected by state and federal Labor.