25 March 2014

Speech: Green Army set to make a real and lasting difference

Speech in Parliament: 24-25 March 2014

Part 1

I rise to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Program) Bill 2014. It is a great pleasure to make a contribution on this very important piece of legislation. The Green Armysays much about our government’s commitment to the environment, to real and practical environmental programs, and to investing in skills and training for young people.

In my first speech in this place, I spoke of the importance of caring for the environment for me and for the people of my electorate. Corangamite is a beautiful part of the world. It includes incredible coastline, surf beaches, national parks, precious creeks, rivers, rainforests, rolling farmland and of course the mighty Great Ocean Road. Many people move to my electorate because of their love of the environment. In my first speech I said that the Liberal Party has a strong tradition of practical environmentalism. It was the coalition which established stage 1 of Kakadu National Park and ended whaling in Australia. It was the coalition which put the Great Barrier Reef on a sustainable footing a decade ago. We are now delivering a 15,000-strong Green Army and tackling climate change. I commit myself to being a passionate defender of our precious environment.

In the contributions we have heard tonight from the member for Parramatta and the member for Newcastle, it was quite incredible that they said we must do everything to address youth unemployment. What do they think this scheme is? This scheme is about investing in young people, building pride, giving young people the opportunity to work in a team and to learn new skills. It is a very positive scheme with very important safeguards, which members opposite seem to be ignoring. Perhaps it indicates that those opposite do not really understand what it is like to be young and unemployed, because sometimes it is really tough to get your first job in full-time paid employment.

I will tell you what I know. I travel around my electorate. I speak to lots of young people in my electorate in Colac, in Belmont and in the federal electorate of Corio. I can see the impact that this is having on young people. Through this scheme we are valuing young people. We are helping to build pride, we are helping to give them skills because for so many people, under the previous federal government, they sat there day without a job! This is a scheme that is positive, this is a scheme that we are proud of.

The Green Army will make a real difference to the environment and to the local communities in my electorate. As I mentioned, it will be a 15,000-strong Green Army by 2018—the largest standing environmental workforce in Australia’s history. It will recruit local people aged 17 to 24 to give them the hands-on experience, the skills, the training to boost their employment prospects. Up to nine eligible participants will work on one project with at least one team supervisor. It is a very substantial commitment of $300 million over four years. The government will provide an additional $222 million in 2017-18 and $289 million in 2018-19.

In my electorate of Corangamite, we are very excited by four Green Army projects that were announced prior to the election—in Lorne, in Apollo Bay, in Colac and in Queenscliff. The project in Queenscliff is a really good example of why members opposite have got this so wrong. This is not about replacing people in work; this is about creating new opportunities. In Queenscliff there is a real problem with the foreshore. The local council could not get funding, so we have committed the money required to completely rejuvenate the foreshore and to build a boardwalk. In fact it was such a problem that a local, Alistair Lang, who runs the local IGA, started a petition and raised 1,000 signatures in his supermarket. People were so upset about the state of the foreshore and I really do commend the work of Alistair Lang and the many others who joined forces to say, ‘We want some action’. We are delivering.

I also want to commend the Borough of Queenscliff, who has worked so hard to pull together plans to rejuvenate the foreshore as well as the Bellarine Catchment Network and the Swan Bay Environment Network. Queenscliff is a wonderful historic town with so much to offer and the rejuvenation of their foreshore will make an enormous difference. Also, in Lorne, there will be a major project at the Lorne St George River tramway track to the west of Point Grey. Before reliable road transport emerged in the 1930s, it was an extensive tramway network which enabled heavy loads to be— (Time expired)

Part 2

It is a pleasure to continue my contribution from yesterday. I was speaking about the terrific Green Army project that we have announced for Lorne which is a very important town along the Great Ocean Road and a mecca for tourism. We will be cleaning up the Lorne St George River tramway track to the west of Point Grey. Walking tracks and adventure are so important in the Great Ocean Road region, and this project will add to the tourism assets of our great region. I commend the Great Ocean Road Coast Committee as well as volunteer organisations, such as Lornecare and Friends of Queens Park, for their preliminary work on this project.

Another wonderful project is a Green Army project in Apollo Bay, further down the Great Ocean Road and another wonderful tourist town in my seat of Corangamite. The Barham River Green Army restoration project will enhance the health of the river between Apollo Bay and the Marengo Flora Reserve. This project will include extensive weed removal and the revegetation of the banks of the Barham River. It is another very important project for the region.

In Colac the fourth Green Army project, which will be rolled out in the foreseeable future, is the preservation and enhanced works at the Barongarook Creek. Barongarook Creek forms an important part of the local river system and the project will involve doing quite a lot of work in weed removal, revegetation and the inclusion of some interpretive signage. Again, we see a great commitment by the government to the environment. We see the funding of wonderful local projects which would otherwise not be funded. Very disappointingly, of course, these were not funded by the previous Labor government. We are also building on the terrific work of the Howard government. Its successful Green Corps program, established in 1996, propagated and planted over 14 million trees, erected more than 8,000 kilometres of fencing, cleared more than 50,000 hectares of weeds and constructed or maintained more than 5,000 kilometres of walking tracks or boardwalks.

Although the Green Army program supports important local projects, to me, as the member of Corangamite, they are not the only important environmental projects we are undertaking. We have also announced a $300,000 program for a ‘Solar Surf Coast’. This is a project to help fund the installation of solar panels for community groups, surf-lifesaving clubs, schools and senior citizens groups. It is a wonderful opportunity for so many communities along the Surf Coast, in my electorate, to apply for funding and to get the support they need to install solar panels. I am a big supporter of renewable energy and particularly solar energy. In a country such as ours where each home has the capacity to generate its own power—to be its own mighty power station—this project provides an important incentive for the use of renewable energy in Corangamite.

This is in stark contrast to what the previous government did to help the environment. It introduced a carbon tax, which is a tax on jobs, a tax on manufacturing and a tax on every family in my electorate of Corangamite and across the country. It is a $7.6 billion hit to the economy, costing each and every family $550 a year. Consider the damage that it has done to small business, which has not been compensated, and also to manufacturing—a $1.1 billion hit on manufacturing. I represent a very important farming district in my electorate and farmers are also adversely affected. For example, dairy farmers will be hit with a $7,000 a year impost as result of this dreadful and economically destructive tax. I say to the people of WA, Labor is leading you in a merry dance. They have no intention of looking after your interests. We are doing everything we can to abolish the dreadful carbon tax. Labor is saying one thing in WA and another thing here in Canberra. If Labor were to have its way, it would impose a carbon tax on diesel fuel, which would cripple many more small businesses, farmers and other enterprises. That could only mean one thing—job losses.

At a time when we are working so hard to give young people an opportunity to develop new skills and new experiences in the workplace, you would think there would be bipartisan support for what is a very positive initiative. But what we see in the amendment before the House today is members opposite obstructing another great idea that primarily supports young people in our community. I reflect on the youth unemployment rates in my city of Geelong. The figure for young people aged 15 to 24 is an alarming 14.3 per cent. We are delivering a program which will help young people to build pride and develop the skills that will lead them to many other opportunities. It is very disappointing to see some of the comments made by members opposite, by the Greens and even by the ACTU president, Ged Kearney, who has said:

This whole concept of the Green Army is the latest attempt by the Abbott Government to cut wages [and] cut conditions of working people in this country.

It is a pity that Ms Kearney, the Labor Party and the Greens simply do not appreciate this program. This program is creating new opportunities and a whole new pathway to employment. Her statement is frankly a load of absolute rubbish. What I would say to those opposite, to the ACTU and to the Greens is come to my region and see how destructive youth unemployment is in places like Geelong and Colac. I can tell them that this is a wonderful opportunity for so many young people and it is a particularly important part of our efforts to combat youth unemployment. We are doing something. We are giving young people a go. We are helping them to build pride in their work. We are making them feel valued and like they are part of a team, and we are helping them to move towards their next opportunity. We are also tackling important local environmental projects, which unfortunately were ignored by the Labor Party. This is a wonderfully positive scheme, a proud initiative of environment minister Greg Hunt and the coalition government, and I proudly commend this bill to the House.

24-25 March 2015