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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11750

Mr HALE (8:07 PM) —I rise today to offer my strong support for the Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009. I note the contribution from the member for the Riverina and I draw a lot of comparisons between the electorate I represent in remote Australia and the electorate that she represents in the Riverina in regional and remote New South Wales. It is very important that these types of programs are put in place to aid our young people in being able to get some skills and disciplines with regard to turning up to work. Very often the people that we target here are young people that have not decided what they want to do yet. I have a 19-year-old son who has got a lot of talent in a lot of different areas. You talk to him about where he wants to see his career going and he has a lot of options, yet really he does not know what he wants to do yet. Too often we are in a situation where we thrust careers onto young people and say: ‘You need to do this. You need to go to university,’ or ‘You need to get an apprenticeship,’ and often young kids might have three or four different careers throughout their working lives. I think that these types of programs often fill that void when a young person leaves school—or when they may even leave school before the end of year 12. These types of programs enable them to gain some skills that will lead them on to jobs in the future and to get some discipline with regard to turning up to work and working in a team environment.

This bill will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to provide the National Green Job Corps supplement of $41.60 per fortnight for eligible recipients who participate in the National Green Job Corps. This supplement will be payable to those people who participate in the National Green Job Corps between 1 January next year and the end of 2011. The National Green Job Corps supplement has been introduced to encourage and support those low-skilled job seekers who are on the income support and aged between 17 and 24.

This government is serious about tackling climate change. Tackling climate change will transform and save many existing jobs. Tackling climate change will create new jobs and increase the average income for people in our community. As the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, said in her address to the Green Skills Forum in Melbourne last month:

We’ve talked about these issues for some time. Now it’s time to bring the work that has been done to a point so we can get on with the reforms needed by industry and by the training sector.

She went on to say:

We’re gearing up for a major change in our economy. If we do this in the right way we will create new economic opportunities for Australia.

This amendment is part of a range of measures that ensure that as a society we are ready for the changes in our economy. This amendment ensures that the most needy are provided with the opportunity, and are empowered to gain the necessary skills, to be active participants in the transition and not be left behind. The National Green Jobs Corps is a two-year environmental work experience and training program which will give young unemployed Australians the opportunity to contribute to the community and build skills. Ten thousand places will be provided through the life of the program and these will be targeted at 17- to 24-year-olds, without year 12 qualifications, who struggle to engage with the education and training system. The program will provide structured work experience and accredited training. The majority of participants, when they complete the program, will leave with a certificate II level qualification, which is of course consistent with the compact with young Australians where job seekers aged under 20 without year 12 are encouraged to attain a year 12 equivalent qualification.

The National Green Jobs Corps is a 26-week environmental training program that over two years will enable 10,000 18- to 24-year-olds gain job-ready skills. It will provide 10,000 out-of-work young Australians with the opportunity to gain work experience in green skills for future jobs. There are currently 10,000 young Australians between school leaving age and 24 who have been out of work for more than 12 months. These young Australians will be able to join the National Green Jobs Corps to meet their participation obligations for youth allowance and Newstart.

The National Green Jobs Corps projects are located mainly in regional and remote areas of Australia and focus on areas where environmental and heritage restoration, protection and conservation are a high priority. We have seen recently the impact of people movements on our coastal areas, and the effect of climate change and the warming of the planet is impacting on our coastal areas by way of erosion. Certainly we have seen the movement of people around our coast. As Australians, we are attracted to the water and attracted to the beaches. I had the pleasure of being with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, in Darwin recently, where we had a restoration of the Mindil Beach foreshore and Mindil Beach dunes. This was a project that was taken on by the Larrakia people, working in the Green Corps environment where they restored the dunes of Mindil Beach. It is probably the most used beach in Darwin and is famous for the Mindil Beach Markets on Thursday and Sunday nights. There is a lot of movement of people across those dunes, and a restoration program was put in place where native grasses were used.

These are very important programs and they are happening all around Australia. All around Australia people are being drawn to the coast and there is a massive challenge for us. I did a PM’s country taskforce down in the Torquay-Apollo Bay area where the population generally is about 25,000 to 30,000 people who live there for the entire year. But the population can expand to up to 200,000 people during the summer months when people are drawn out of the cities, Melbourne and Geelong. People from New South Wales will migrate to the beaches on the coast and it makes a massive impact. So these types of programs enable us to restore and revegetate and make sure we look after these pristine areas of our fabulous Australian coastline. And we know that the programs along the Great Barrier Reef area, along the beaches of Queensland, are just as important.

These projects, as I said, are mainly located in regional and remote areas of Australia and focus on areas where environmental and heritage restoration, protection and conservation are of the highest priority. Often these programs also work hand in glove with our Indigenous community, usually with the traditional owners. It gives our traditional owners an opportunity for their young people, who are often not able to immediately come into the workforce, not only to do a valuable job for their areas in regard to restoration and looking after our habitat but also to become job ready. It builds capacity within that person to go into mainstream employment after they have completed their Green Corps certificate.

The objects of this program are to give young people experience in projects that focus on areas where environmental conservation work and heritage restoration are required, and to promote environmental conservation and natural heritage outcomes that will benefit the community and the environment. Participants benefit from personal development, including teamwork and leadership skills; from building capacity, skills development and training through activities that are structured and actually have learning outcomes that can be measured, outcomes that can be put into different environments as they move forward; from connections with community and environment by strengthening relationships, participation and contribution to the community and environment; and, career and employment prospects through accredited training and on-the-job training. The National Green Jobs Corps supplement is designed to support young low-skilled participants undertaking National Green Jobs Corps work in recognition of the costs that they may have incurred participating in the program, for example travelling to activities and so on.

I note tonight that the former Minister for Employment Participation is in the House and now doing a fantastic job as Minister for Home Affairs. During his time in Employment Participation I went and represented him on many occasions with the Green Corps, and I want to hark back to the Rapid Creek team involved in a stage of refurbishing Rapid Creek. Rapid Creek runs through suburban Darwin, through the northern suburbs. I grew up in that area, Rothdale Road. The creek starts up near the airport at a place called Yankee Pool. You can float down Rapid Creek, and I floated down there many a time during the heavy rains. You come down through the clay pots, underneath Kimmorley Bridge, over the top of the V-shape and then down to where the mouth of Rapid Creek runs into the harbour. We have a program there where we were restoring along the edges of Rapid Creek. Because of the rain that we have, often there is a lot of erosion and there needs to be restoration made around Rapid Creek. It is an iconic spot for young people in my community. We all grew up having a swim in Rapid Creek. I will read from the media release that was put out by the then Minister for Employment Participation. This was an important project.

The Minister, Brendan O’Connor, has sent his congratulations to the Darwin-based Green Corps team who today graduated from the Rapid Creek Reforestation and Protection project.

These are hands-on projects. These are projects that are making an impact within the community. They are not faraway pie-in-the-sky stuff.

Over the last 26 weeks the team of young people and their project supervisors have been busily undertaking revegetation of degraded areas of the waterway.

Their tasks included planting trees, assessing and recording the environmental data of the area, dealing with the invasive weeds, and collecting and propagating seeds of particular plant species for future use.

The Rapid Creek Reforestation and Protection project was coordinated by the Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) in conjunction with other local organisations, including the Darwin City Council and the Rapid Creek Catchment Advisory Council.

“Their hard work has provided the community with a protected natural waterway and rainforest corridor,” said Minister O’Connor.

Green Corps is a federally funded employment and training program.

Teams of young people aged between 17 and 20 gain work experience and accredited training in environment-related fields while working on projects to restore and conserve Australia’s environment and heritage sites.

That is just one example, and I went to many others where we were doing work out there with young people and giving them skills. I commend the minister in his former portfolio and acknowledge that his current portfolio is probably a little bit tougher than what he was doing in his past portfolio. I also commend him on the effort he is making in that area as well.

It was a fantastic commitment from the Australian government towards helping young people gain skills. With the potential of our whole economy changing direction dramatically in the next 10 years with regard to the way we go about things, and certainly in the way that we look after our environment, these skills that people are getting now through these programs are going to hold them in very good stead in the future. I can see that these will go from being maybe bridging type programs for skill development or capacity building into career type programs where we will have people coming through this area being very interested in conservation and there being further opportunities down the track to not only take a positive role in what we do in our environment but certainly take a career focus moving forward so that they can make a career out of this type of work.

One of the other things that we have done through this program in the Northern Territory is the Zero Toad Strategy through FrogWatch. Let us face it, there is only one decent sort of cane toad, and they play in the State of Origin, for Queensland, three times a year! They are the only cane toads we support. They are the only cane toads that bring any sort of productivity. I can see the honourable member for Lindsay shaking his head. He is obviously a distraught supporter of the cockroaches. There are no good cockroaches. There are no cockroaches that bring anything to the table. There are cane toads that bring something to the table, but there is only one type, and that is the Queensland Rugby League cane toad. The others, we want to get rid off. We do not want to see them coming to the Northern Territory, but they are. We do not want to see them in Kakadu, but they are there. We do not want to see them in the Kimberley, but they are getting there.

With this strategy up in our area, it was very important that we provided some money to continue our work not only in controlling cane toads but in implementing further trials on fencing. Using fences around waterholes as we head into the dry season is a very effective way of curtailing the activities of cane toads. An issue very dear to the heart of Territorians is: how do we combat cane toads coming right across into the Northern Territory and WA? They are very hard to fight off. There has been a lot of research done. A lot of the work with cane toads is labour-intensive, on-the-ground activity—night patrols, setting up traps and putting fences around waterholes. The cane toads will sit there trying to get to the water. They are very much in need of water at all times. By rolling out these programs in the Northern Territory we give young people an opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the community while they try to eradicate cane toads, and they get work skills at the same time.

As a former apprentice greenkeeper by trade and a former golf course superintendent, I know the value of training. I give the same credit to a trade certificate—whether it be a plumber or an electrician—as I give to a degree as a doctor or a lawyer. We need to have that balance as a society. Sure, we are going to put at lot of money into our universities in the future, and we need to do that, but we certainly do not want to downgrade the value of an apprenticeship. If you ever have the opportunity to live in Darwin during a mining boom, you will find that it is very difficult to find a plumber or electrician. We need to continue to upskill our young people. We need to continually let our young people know that if they are not suited to be a doctor or a lawyer, or if they are not going to go into some other form of professional life with a university degree, they can grab an apprenticeship. You can get an apprenticeship or a traineeship, start learning skills and find out where you fit—because we all fit somewhere. These types of programs are paramount in giving kids skills and self-esteem and improving their self-worth so that they know they can make a contribution. There is no shame in being a 17-year-old and not knowing what you really want to do. Through these programs, we are able to incorporate capacity building and building the self-esteem of young people by giving them some financial assistance so they can have a career moving forward.

Finally, there is only one person in the gallery watching me speak tonight—my 10-year-old son, Dominic. Dom, thanks for your support, mate. It was a really good speech, I thought. Thanks a lot for listening—and I see that those opposite are listening. Welcome to dad’s workplace. I will enjoy having you here until Friday, as long as you behave yourself and pack up all of your wrestlers at the end of each day.

I commend the bill to the House.