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Monday, 2 March 1998
Page: 116

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Senator IAN MACDONALD (10:19 PM) —Prior to the last election, the Liberal and National parties promised that, if elected, they would establish a Green» «Corps» , a program giving young Australians the opportunity to make a contribution to their environment. Since that time, the «Green» «Corps» has been established and, I think, has been universally accepted as one of the great programs of the first Howard government.

Last weekend, the first annual conference of «Green» «Corps» delegates was held in Canberra. «Green» «Corps» , as you well know, Madam President, is run by the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers on behalf of the federal government. That group is a private group removed from government. The government actually tendered for a project manager, and ATCV won the tender. We did that specifically to make sure that the projects were selected by an organisation removed from government and by one that had expertise in getting young people—in the case of ATCV, older people, but, in the case of the government's «Green» «Corps» , young people—involved in volunteering for the environment.

The Hon. Tony Abbott my colleague, and I have responsibility within the government for overseeing the «Green» «Corps» , and it was Mr Abbott, ATCV and I who, last weekend, hosted the national «Green» «Corps» conference. There were 101 participants representing 71 past and current «Green» «Corps» teams from around Australia. These 17- to 20-year-olds volunteer to demonstrate their commitment to preserve and restore Australia's natural environment and cultural heritage. This is where this program is so good in that these young people are volunteers. Having volunteered, they do get the training wage and they do receive some training, but it is principally an environmental program offering young people the opportunity of volunteering to help the environment.

The conference last weekend not only provided an invaluable opportunity for delegates to share their experiences and to develop new skills but also provided participants with an insight into the range of activities being undertaken across Australia to ensure that critical environment repair work is done. The official opening of the conference also gave the young people from right around Australia an opportunity to see the «Green» «Corps» in action.

The participants banded together to plant an area along the bank of Kippax Creek in the Bluedevil Grasslands in North Belconnen. The participants also removed willow from along the bank, investigated the water quality of the creek and surveyed the grass species in the area. I joined them, along with Mr Abbott and members of the local Landcare group, in assisting in that program last Sunday week.

A number of workshops were also held during the conference, providing participants with the opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas about the program. This was one of the ideas of having the conference—to get feedback from these young people, to see if there were ways that the program could be improved in the future and to let these young people have an input into the way they could best serve and help their environment.

I was able to join the participants for many of the workshops that were held. I was particularly pleased with the feedback not only from the young people but also from the trainers and supervisors from the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers. ATCV do an excellent job on behalf of the government. Last weekend, again, they showed their prowess in the way they coordinated the conference and got the maximum benefit for the young people attending. One of the major comments made by the young people at the conference was the feeling of satisfaction they gained from being involved with a project that had particularly strong environmental outcomes.

The conference was sponsored by private industry, and we were able to bring some of the leaders of Australian industry in to talk and interact with the young people. We were very pleased that Mr Gordon Davis, from Incetic; Mr Jerry Ellis, the Chairman of BHP; Mr David Murray, the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Bank; Dr Michael Deeley, from North Limited; and Mr Brian Scarsbrick, the Chief Executive Officer of Landcare Australia were all able to speak at the conference. They and some other private businesses actually sponsored it, and the government and, I know, the «Green» «Corps» members are particularly grateful to those major Australian companies for their contribution.

The young people did not work all of the time. During the third day of the conference, they were treated to lunch in the Great Hall with the Hon. Peter Costello, the Treasurer, who gave to the «Green» «Corps» members a very encouraging speech on the future of the «Green» «Corps» . Two of the participants—Kellie Abercrombie, from Redcliffe, involved in the Mountains to Mangroves «Green» «Corps» project, and Travis Scicchitano, from Werribee, involved in the Werribee Zoo Basalt Plains «Green» «Corps» project—told us about their projects at the dinner and what the «Green» «Corps» had done for them. The young people then toured Parliament House and visited either Questacon or the Australian Institute of Sport and generally had a bit of time to have a look around Canberra.

The final workshop was opened by Professor Hugh Possingham, the professor of theoretical ecology at Roseworthy Agricultural College. His workshop brought together participants and professionals in the environment field to discuss what would happen after the young people left their «Green» «Corps» project.

At the end of the conference, there was a final group get together by the young people and they were asked to summarise what they had gained from the environmental and social perspective of the conference and their work with «Green» «Corps» . It was interesting that, on the environmental side, the young people were particularly keen about the knowledge they had gained about the environment, the techniques that were used, the outcomes from their work and, generally, how the environment had become such a major part of Australia and how they were part of that major part of Australian life.

On the social side, most of the young people particularly mentioned that the «Green» «Corps» project had given them a huge amount of confidence. A lot of them had come into the project a little inward looking but, being with their peers, being in something they wanted to do and being in something they had volunteered to do had given them a great deal of confidence. We found from the previous «Green» «Corps» teams that most of them do go out and get very worthwhile jobs in the community and gain confidence in themselves and their future. Some of the members also mentioned that being in this group of 10 young people for a six-month period gave them some idea of the need for tolerance, of understanding other people's problems and of general life experiences.

«Green» «Corps» participants are very, very proud of the work they do for the environment. They do get annoyed with one or two politicians—and there are only one or two of them—who always seem to get up and criticise these young people. It is interesting to see how these young people react to some of these politicians who claim to be in tune with the young people around Australia. Those politicians should just have a talk to some of the «Green» «Corps» participants; then they would understand that these «Green» «Corps» participants love what they are doing. They have a real pride in it and they are very grateful for the opportunity of being able to do it.

It was interesting that, when Senator Hill came into the conference at the final session to wish the delegates well, he was greeted with spontaneous cheers and applause. That is rather odd for young people when greeting a politician of any sort, so it does demonstrate what they think of the work that Senator Hill has done in getting this «Green» «Corps project going and of the contribution it enables these young people to make to their environment.