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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 960

Senator BROWNHILL (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) —by leave—I wish to speak on the Auditor-General's Audit Report No. 34. The first part of the report says:

The good management of the implementation of new programs is essential to give effect to Government policy intentions, to ensure funds are well used and to achieve the desired program outcomes.

Although there are good intentions with this program, it is not working as well as it should. In fact, there is ample indication that

the people who are allocating the funds to LEAP programs have no knowledge of land care and no understanding of what is involved in implementing any environmental programs. In the words of one LEAP coordinator, `It is just so obvious that the people who are deciding on who gets the continued funding have absolutely nil knowledge of what is involved.'

  I think that is a great shame because the Auditor-General also said that there are a number of aspects of LEAP implementations which could have been improved notwithstanding the program's achievements. Senator Tierney has made the point that it is good for employment in that it is getting people into employment, and nobody is against that whatsoever. But this program is about land care and environmental action. That is a part of the program that is not working as well as it should. Its main aim is to get employment and not to teach the young people irrelevant skills. I think that is a rather sad thing in this area where land care is so important.

  In the past few weeks we have seen what has happened with 20-odd million tonnes of dust flying over our country. Something has to be done about the environment. Landcare is doing a great job as far as that is concerned, but it has some warts on it. I want to quote to the Senate from some evidence that the committee took in Queensland from a Ms O'Donnell. She is a LEAP coordinator and part-time teacher at the Cooloola and Sunshine Institute of TAFE at Gympie. She said:

If they are properly organised. One of the things that are not happening is continued funding.—

That is my big complaint about this program—

To provide funding for students to plant trees and then not to provide funding for them to maintain them is a complete waste of time—that is what we had. We set up a program last year with verbal guarantee of three years funding. That did not come through so those trees that were planted are now six feet under weeds, literally, because we have had a five-month wait for the next course to start. We have now got another course which started two weeks ago. It is running and we will eventually have those students out clearing those sites. We expect that at least half those trees have died, if not all. They should be now two metres high and they are probably about 50 centimetres high, because they had only been in the ground a month or two before they were abandoned. If that is how LEAP is being funded across the state, then most of the funding is achieving nothing environmentally. It should be achieving something for the clients, the students, but it is not achieving anything for the environment, from our point of view.

I think that is rather sad for those 50 centimetre high trees. Some $55 million is going into this program but only $102 million goes into the total landcare program. So it is a big slice of a budget that is meant to be doing something for the environment as well as getting people jobs.

  It is good to get people working and to get them jobs. The Auditor-General goes on in his report to tell us the number of people who are employed on this scheme:

.the commencement of 5500 participants out of some 9000 contracted places (3000 places did not become available until June 1993, when additional program funding was approved)

But the funding of $55 million needs to be reconsidered. If LEAP is going to be funded and is to achieve the right thing for young unemployed people so that they will take an interest in the environment and will get them going, then I think that is great. But it is no good starting programs if they cannot be kept funded after the start-up period.