Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing
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Green Army Programme

It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014. The member for Gorton is right: this Green Army Program has two fundamental objectives and both are complementary. Firstly, it is to provide an opportunity to young people for training in an area that they would seldom have the opportunity of receiving without this policy. It is also to provide practical environmental benefits to our regions and local suburban areas, such as my own.

Looking firstly at the training opportunities: targeting this at 17 to 24 year olds is recognition by this government that young people often find it difficult to find that first opportunity—that first breakthrough. There are many young people who are considering, or potentially interested in, a career involved in horticulture or other related areas, and this sort of program will give them fantastic exposure and mentoring to determine whether they have an aptitude for it and whether they enjoy it. And it will obviously give them the practical benefits of teaching them the relevant skills.

Obviously, there are also other benefits that sit outside that, even for people who are not necessarily interested in pursuing a career in horticulture. For lots of young people, some of the barriers to employment are things as simple as working in a team, being able to take instructions, learning to cooperate and work with other people in a team environment and having the discipline to show up at a certain time every day for work. I suppose these are ‘soft’ skills but they are crucially important to anybody seeking to make a start in any field of employment. The opportunities that will be given to 17 to 24 year olds from the Green Army Program will greatly benefit people who have a desire to start a career in complementary areas like horticulture, land management, working with local government in land management and other areas like that, and also people who just need that first start—that first opportunity in their career that can give them some of the skills that they will then have on their CV and be able to take forward into other careers, other professions and other jobs.

Looking at the second aspect of the Green Army Program—putting aside the training aspect for young people—the practical environmental benefits are something that I think we will look back on with great pride. If I look at my electorate of Deakin, we have some fantastic natural areas—remnant forests in the area, parks and creeks—that local governments find very, very difficult to maintain within their own budgets. Indeed, most of those areas have big teams of volunteers—people who get out on Saturday and Sunday to do the weeding and to clean up the creeks. These are people who do it on a week-by-week basis. I have spent time with people at the Blackburn Lake Sanctuary and the Heatherdale Creek in my electorate, and the volunteer base just cannot keep up with the demands of that kind of work. So they have applauded us as a government—and they were certainly very excited when we announced the policy when we were in opposition—for the opportunity to work with a team of young people for six months who would come in, under supervision, to do a lot of the work that they had so diligently been trying to do themselves.

The Green Army project will enable those young people to work hand in glove with those who have responsibility for the land management of the relevant project. In my electorate of Deakin that will primarily involve Maroondah City Council and Whitehall City Council. For each of the three projects that I have in my electorate, which are the Blackburn Lake Sanctuary, the Heatherdale Creek Rejuvenation Project and Eastville Park in Croydon, our Green Army teams will work extraordinarily closely with the relevant local government.

It is an opportunity to ensure that the volunteers get the help they need and that the young people get the training and the first start—the opportunity that is so important to them. In recent weeks there has been a clamouring of excitement in my electorate with people putting themselves forward as potential participants and as volunteers on the relevant advisory committees of the projects, who are keen to get an understanding of the time frames of the projects that will be in place. There has also been excitement at the local government level that they are going to be able to have some assistance in these land management projects.

To address one of the concerns of the member for Gorton—responsibly raised—I do not think that in any of the projects in the Deakin electorate you will see Green Army projects substituting for work that is otherwise being done. I think it will be work that, quite frankly, is unable to be done within current resources and that our volunteers are unable to do themselves. It will be important to ensure that they complement each other. I am confident that they will, and speaking from the Deakin electorate perspective—and I am sure all electorates around the country would be similar—there is a commitment on this side of the House to ensure that the Green Army projects work with local communities, complement what they are already doing on the ground and try to obtain those two crucial benefits: firstly, the training and opportunities given to young people and secondly, the practical environment benefits as well.