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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13388

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:32): I agree with the first part of the motion. I acknowledge that many young Australians are environmentally conscious and interested in protecting our precious natural environment. That is very true to say of many young people in my electorate. I ask every school group that comes to visit us here in parliament from my electorate what they would do if they were the Prime Minister of this country—what their key policies would be. Without a doubt in every school group, whether it be a primary school or secondary school, the students have said they would do more for the environment—that they believe in climate change and that they want this House to do more to protect the environment. So it is an issue that young people are passionate about. In fact young people have always been passionate about the environment. In my day, when I was growing up in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast, the environment and landcare was one of the early experiences that I had around campaigning and around grassroots activism. From the sixties and seventies it continued to be an issue. Young Australians have always been passionate about the environment.

What I disagree with in this motion is the suggestion that the skills people gain from being involved in the Green Army can lead to job opportunities. What jobs? Rather than having a policy that is focused on creating and securing jobs for young people, this government has disguised itself by saying that the Green Army will deliver the skills young people need. This is not an apprenticeship. This is not a plan to help a graduate recruitment system. What the government has done through the Green Army has taken money out of landcare and put it into the Green Army at the expense of a number of local landcare groups. It has said that it is a job opportunity—it will give young people from the ages of 17 to 24 an opportunity to gain skills that could lead to employment. Perhaps it will lead to employment in land management. Perhaps it will lead to employment within the Department of Agriculture or the Water Commission. It would be a bit hard to get a job in those areas, given that this government has sacked so many people working in these particular agencies.

What young people need is a serious plan from this government on how they are going to create real job opportunities, particularly for people in regional areas. In my own electorate youth unemployment is up. In areas like Townsville and in other parts of regional Australia, youth unemployment is up. The only solution the government has put forward is, 'That's okay—get some work experience with the Green Army.' It is simply not good enough.

What is also disappointing is that a large chunk of the funding for this program, $700 million, came directly from Landcare. In its first budget this government cut almost $500 million of funding from Landcare—almost a third of the funding that was cut. Yes, there is still $1 billion for Landcare based projects, but the bulk of the cuts to Landcare came from competitive grants rounds, where small community Landcare groups were able to apply for grassroots projects. This affected Landcare groups in my electorate, groups that were doing much needed work to help restore country, groups like the Golden Point Landcare group, the Newham and District Landcare Group, the Woodend Landcare group, the Castlemaine group, the Kyneton group—all of whom are working hard to restore rivers, waterways and land and ensure that we have good sound environmental landcare policy going forward. Many of these groups did not partner with local Green Army projects. They said that the requirements for local Landcare groups were too great. Instead they have gone back to good old-fashioned fundraising through sausage sizzles, doorknocks and subscriptions to try and get the money they need to purchase the equipment, plants and whatever else they need to complete their local projects.

Of course, it was not just Landcare that suffered from the funding cuts of this government. There have been huge cuts in regional Australia. Apart from slashing the Landcare scheme, this government also cut over 500 jobs from the CSIRO—people who were doing vital work in partnership with regional communities and Landcare groups, whether it was on soil, safe foods or work with our farmers. This government has its priorities wrong. The Green Army is a scheme that is not delivering for the environment the way that it could be, like our Landcare groups. It is also a weak excuse for a decent youth jobs policy.

Debate adjourned.