Mr HOGAN (Page) (18:17): I rise to speak in favour of the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014. I will talk specifically about the two Green Army projects that have already been approved in the electorate of Page even though there are others that are lined up and very keen to get involved in the next round. One of the projects is managed by a group called Rekindling the Spirit with the Jubullum Local Aboriginal Land Council. This project is going to take place out at Tabulam. Rekindling the Spirit aim to regenerate 1,000 acres of land owned by the Jubullum land council at Tabulam, to de-weed the site, to regenerate the river banks and to make the property viable for small-crop farming, which was its previous use. Floods in the area recently have caused significant damage to the river banks and considerable destruction to farming areas and have resulted in the spread of noxious weeds, which now overrun productive farming areas.
Apart from regenerating the land, the community benefit of this project will be the provision of employment for the local Aboriginal community through the re-establishment of small-crop farming. The work will be done with the Rekindling the Spirit community from Lismore who specialise in providing employment and training to Indigenous youth recently released from jail, with the aim of lowering the rate of repeat offending. This will also be done with Tabulam locals. Why would anyone not be in favour of a program like that?
I have had the pleasure of knowing Greg Telford, a very proud local Indigenous man in our community who runs Rekindling the Spirit. As we all know in this chamber, because of the role we play in our communities we get to meet many people. I do not say this is lightly when I say that Greg Telford is one of the most inspirational men I have met in my community. I do not want to divulge too much of his background to you because he may not want me to do so in this chamber. Let me just say this. Greg’s path in life was certainly not heading in the right direction as an older teenager. He was in trouble with the law and he certainly had some issues that he needed to deal with. He has turned his life around. He is very much a man who takes personal responsibility for his actions and for who he is. He is a strong man but at the same time he is probably one of the most loving and compassionate men that I have met. Because he is like that he exudes a strength of character and he is an inspiration to all who meet him. What has this resulted in? Greg runs programs in my community that work with Indigenous youth, many of whom have been to jail at a young age. He has broken the cycle for so many of those people in my community. It is awe-inspiring. He sees the value of this Green Army project and the role that it can play in working with youth to teach them to accept personal responsibility. That in itself says a lot for this program.
The other project in my electorate that has already been approved is with EnviTE. Many of you would have heard that Meg Nicholls is the very good operator of EnviTE in my local community. She is managing a project on Susan Island which sits just off Grafton in the middle of the Clarence River. It is a spectacular island. I invite you to visit this beautiful part of the world, Mr Deputy Speaker. You can be mowing your lawn and if you turn around you can almost see the grass growing as quickly as you have mown it. We experience quite a lot of rain, and that means we have so many things growing up there—not only things that we want to grow, but things in our environment and our community that we do not want to grow. We have a lot of noxious weeds. We have species like camphor laurel trees, which, if you do not keep control of them, can completely grow out a whole property; we have lantana and we have vines. You name it, we have it—and it grows really quickly. So, the program we are putting together on Susan Island is going to regenerate the area, it is going to get rid of a lot of these noxious weeds and it is going to make these beautiful public spaces in our community more accessible.
For me, this government—in this, as in most things—is about real solutions. This Green Army Program is about real solutions for environmental issues. Some of the most important environmental issues that we have are often literally in our backyard—whether they be noxious weeds or other things. I will go through some of the attributes of the program, how it is going to work and how, if they wish to, people can get involved.
Obviously, it is voluntary. It will recruit young people between 17 and 24 years of age who are interested in doing this type of work. If you are not interested in working outdoors and if you are not interested in getting out into the environment then obviously it is not a good thing for you to voluntarily get involved with, but a lot of people are interested in this type of thing. It is going to become Australia’s largest ever environmental workforce, building to 15,000 participants by 2018.
That in itself is an exciting prospect, and I am sure you agree, Mr Deputy Speaker. There is a twofold benefit to this. Not only will it be providing real environmental solutions to real environmental problems in our communities but the spin-offs for those young men and women who get involved in this program are going to be very exciting. As with the examples I gave before, it is going to make a real difference to the environment and to local communities through projects involving restoring and protecting habitat, weeding, planting, cleaning up creeks and rivers, and restoring places of cultural heritage—again, very exciting.
So what else is this going to achieve? We are going to have young men and women, who are interested and want to get involved and learn new skills, cleaning up the environment and learning practical skills that will help them, hopefully, to move on to a job and gain skills that will be handy in their life. These people are going to get teamwork skills out of this, they are going to learn what it is like to operate in a team and they are going to get the joy of working with other people. One plus one does not necessarily equal two; these people are going to learn you can do so much more in a team that is working together. These people are going to find out about local ownership and community spirit. I mentioned before Greg from Rekindling The Spirit; we know that sometimes when people have challenges or have been to jail, as is the case with a lot of people Greg works with, they need to start to own their environment and they need to start to own some of the things that they do in their community. When they go out and clean things up, when they are involved in beautifying their community or making their community more productive, like that small crop area that they will be working with, they will own it. That ownership and involvement means that not only have they had that teamwork exposure, not only have they had the community spirit exposure, but they will be proud of it and they will learn—in some cases for the first time—what it is like to be productive and the joy of that and all the positives that go along with that.
As I said, this is going to operate for a 20- to 26-week period, with participants undertaking environmental and heritage activities. The program, as we know, is commencing almost as we talk. Two hundred and fifty on-the-ground environmental projects with 2,500 people will be undertaken in the first financial year. By 2017 there will be 1,500 projects with 15,000 placements undertaken.
In my community there have already been two successful applications, as I have said already. This program will make real, tangible differences in the communities of Tabulam and Susan Island, with the restoration work and the small crop activity they want to start in Tabulam, and the public space work in Susan Island in Grafton. The community will see real, tangible results from this project. Once we have everyone out there by 2017-18, with that enormous workforce doing real community work with real community environmental benefits, it is going to be very noticeable across all of our communities that this project is having a great effect.
What types of projects can be applied for? They can be heritage or environmental, but they can be across urban environments as well, across regional and remote Australia and public land—as I have said, one of the projects in my electorate is on Indigenous-held lands—or indeed, where there is a clear community, environmental and/or heritage benefit, they can be on private land.
The program covers costs associated with the involvement of the team; there are allowances, team supervisor wages, uniforms, safety gear, equipment such as hand tools, participant training, local transport costs and insurance. All those types of costs will be covered by the program. There are also budgets for other materials. There has been a bit of discussion about workplace health and safety. Participation in appropriate work health and safety and first aid training processes will be a minimum requirement for participants. Obviously, the type of training will vary depending on the type of work participants are doing—some of them will be using instruments that will require them to have extra training, and that will be catered for. Participants will also gain skills that are sometimes intangible. Participants may or may not learn to use a chainsaw or how to do other environmental things, but crucially they will have to learn how to communicate. They may be learning communication skills as they talk to each other or talk to other people about what they want to do or how they are going to do this together as a team—great skills for life. They will potentially have to read and interpret documentation. They will gain skills in planning, organising themselves and their team, making decisions about what to do and how they will do it, using technology and being able to learn in a range of settings, as well as learning landscaping and many other skills.
This also has the great benefit that they will potentially be able to get formal recognition for the skills that they have learnt through this. As an example, they may be able to get a certificate II in conservation and land management, if they tick the boxes for that type of certificate, or a certificate I in construction, if they are doing some basic construction work. The skills involved in getting some of those certificates are quite involved. When they leave this 26-week program, they will potentially have certificates that they can take with them that make them more work ready, which is just wonderful. They are going to get paid in alignment with the national training wage. It is an allowance, which will range from $600 odd to nearly $1,000 a fortnight, depending on their age and what their educational background is. They will be able to choose, depending on what they are on now with Newstart, which mix they want. They will complete training in first aid, which is another great skill and great certificate to have.
I commend the environment minister for this program, since it was very important to him that people with disabilities be able to join this program. While I am talking about disabilities, I want to share with the House the wonderful success we have had locally. We had a local program in March, of which I was lucky and proud enough to be the ambassador. We set a target of getting 50 people with disabilities a job in our community. We wanted to do 70 but ended up setting it at 50, because we did not want to look as though we had failed if we got 60, even though it would have been a great success. Do you know how many jobs we got in that month for people with disabilities? We found 125 jobs for people with disabilities. It was a wonderful success and a wonderful thing to be the ambassador of. This scheme is open to people with disabilities as well, which is just wonderful.
I want to close off by saying that there is a twofold win with this. People are going to be involved in helping our environment and restoring our environment and learn great skills.