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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3282


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (18:54): The Green Army has been repeatedly touted—including in the speech introducing this bill—as Australia's largest environmental workforce ever. One would think that when you are calling something a workforce the people in it would be workers. But it should come as no surprise that somehow Prime Minister Tony Abbott has managed to create a workforce where the workers are not legally workers and have no workplace rights. But that is exactly what this bill represents. In fact, most of this bill is dedicated to saying that the people who participate in the program, in the workforce, are not workers. It goes through and removes the protections that they otherwise might have. The bill makes it clear that these are not people who are workers that might get the protection of the Fair Work Act. The minimum standards that might come with that: the right to recourse if you want to make complaints; the basic ability to have information about your minimum rights and conditions—the people in this Tony Abbott workforce are entitled to none of those things.

It also makes clear that they are not entitled to the protections against discrimination that other workers might have. In other words, if you stick your hand up for this scheme, when you are participating in it do not expect to have the same kinds of protections against discrimination on the basis of race, for example, that another employee might have—because you just do not. One of the few things the legislation does is strip away from you, as a worker, those rights.

It also makes it crystal clear that, when it comes to safety, the people who are participating in this program do not have the same rights as ordinary employees. This is critical because what we hear is that this so-called workforce, where the workers are not legally workers, is going to be spending a lot of its time doing things that involve significant physical activity. We see, according to the second reading speech and other media, that these workers are going to be spending time doing things like building lookouts. What kind of scheme would provide that someone who can be engaged in manual physical labour using tools and working in potentially dangerous situations is not going to be covered by national workers compensation and health and safety laws? But that is what is being set up here.

You know that that is clearly the intent because not only is there a section saying, 'If you just happen to be someone who has stuck up your hand to participate in this process you have no safety rights,' but there is an exception. There is an exception that says the supervisors in this scheme, or certain classes of employees, have the same rights as other employees in Australia. So, under this scheme, someone who sticks their hand up to participate in the program can be working side by side with their supervisor—perhaps building a lookout, as it has been suggested, or perhaps wielding a pick, or perhaps doing other work—and, if they both get injured, only the supervisor is covered by workers health and safety and compensation laws. And the other worker? Well, you are on your own to look after yourself. You do not have the same rights as the person working next to you because this government has said you are not legally a worker.

All of this comes with the establishment of a scheme that just will not work. It will not do any of the things that it has been said it is going to do and will not achieve them at scale. We are told that one of the things that the Green Army can do is plant trees and that that is somehow going to contribute to this country dealing with climate change. That is a claim that the government has repeatedly made, including in the introduction of this bill.

It has been made clear by Monash University that to achieve the pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2 captured would require the equivalent of a plantation with a minimum size more than twice the size of Melbourne and an increase in wood production of an additional 300 per cent. On even the most incredible of projections, this is not something that this Green Army is going to be able to deliver.

As Murdoch University has made clear, if it is really just a weeding-and-tree-planting scheme, similar to the sorts of things that were done under the former Howard government's programs, a lot of that work, particularly in periods of savage drought, was simply undone because there was no long-term follow-up. This comes at a time when we have in existence a $1 billion Biodiversity Fund, which was set up in the last parliament. It is funded by this country's biggest polluters, so it not does not come out of general taxation. This Biodiversity Fund is aiming in a systematic way to encourage people on the land and those who want to help support the land to ensure that trees and ecosystems stay there for the benefit of all of us. And it is working. The government come in here and say, 'We're going to rip down that scheme,' and they come up with something that, even on the best outcome, is only ever going to do a fraction of its work. Then they have the gall to say that this has got some kind of environmental credentials behind it.

This is not about the environment. This is not about protecting the land. If that were the case, then the Biodiversity Fund would stay and it would not be facing the chop, as this government wants. No, this is not about the environment at all. It is a cynical exercise in institutional greenwashing. It is about this government being seen to be doing something about the environment, because it knows it has been caught short. As we know from earlier today, the Minister for the Environment has come into this place and, of his own volition, raised the question of climate change and its impacts on Australia on a grand total of four occasions since becoming minister. That speaks volumes about this government's priorities.

If we are really serious about protecting the Australian environment and its people from the impacts of global warming—which are going to include more bushfires through the places in which, presumably, the trees under this program are going to be planted, and more droughts and biodiversity loss in the areas where these people are apparently going to be working—we would understand what the scientists are telling us, and that is that we have a very short period of time within which to address global warming or the effects on this country are going to be disastrous. They are going to be disastrous on our productivity. They are going to be disastrous for the Murray-Darling Basin. They are going to be disastrous for our environment.

I do not want to have to worry, every time it gets to the Christmas holidays, about which area of Australia is going to burn in a bushfire. I do not want to have to worry, when we decide to go camping, whether my family and I are at threat because there is an increased risk of heatwave or bushfire. I do not want to have to worry, every time it comes to the end of the year, whether people living in Housing Commission flats in Melbourne are going to be facing 50-degree temperatures because of heatwaves, which we know kill more people in this country than the bushfires that sometimes accompany them, as happened during Black Saturday.

All of that should be the top-order concern of this government. This government should have as its No. 1 duty the protection of the Australian people and the environment, but it is abdicating that. When it comes to climate change, we in this country need a climate change Churchill, but we have got a climate change Chamberlain in this Prime Minister. The government is turning its back on the protection of the Australian people and the Australian way of life which should be the first duty of any government. So this bill cannot be supported. It cannot be supported because it has Tony Abbott's fingerprints all over it: the creation of a workforce where the workers are not even legally workers and have no legal protections at work. If that is the government's idea of creating the workforce of the future, then everyone else in this country ought to be very, very worried, because you are next.