Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (17:10): I commend the member for Herbert, especially for the telling points he made at the end of his speech about what the Green Army project is all about. He understands that this is the government saying to young people, ‘We are there to help you. We are there to give you a hand. We are there to try to show you a path that will lead you to get experience in working, which can then lead to you having meaningful employment.’ As we all know, the best thing we can do for our young people is give them work. That is what this government is all about.
It is interesting that we are having this debate the day after the budget, because with the budget being handed down last night we saw the Treasurer explain the budget situation quite tellingly. The key thing that came out of it, and it is a sad thing, was the extent of the mess that has been left to us to clean up. That is epitomised in one simple sum?that is, the debt interest bill we will be paying unless we do something to fix the mess: $1 billion per month, if we do not fix up the mess. When it comes to the Green Army it is interesting because there are probably two, three, four or maybe 10 Green Army projects every month that cannot happen because of the interest bill. If you look at it in terms of cancer centres, in terms of new hospitals, or in terms of new schools, $1 billion per month is what the interest bill is, and that is why the Treasurer and this government are united in fixing the budget mess left behind for us. It is so that we can move on and make sure that we have the financial ability to roll out excellent projects like these Green Army projects.
I have been very fortunate in the electorate of Wannon because, through the very good work of the Minister for the Environment and his parliamentary secretary, Senator Simon Birmingham, I was able to gain four of these Green Army projects for my electorate. I hate to big-note myself because, Member for Herbert, I am sure there are more coming your way. I must say that I would be more than happy to campaign for you to get some for Magnetic Island. I have walked a few of the trails on the island, and that would be a great Green Army initiative. I look forward to supporting you in approaching the relevant minister and parliamentary secretary on that. But I was extremely fortunate to get four key projects in this area. I thank both the Minister for the Environment and the parliamentary secretary for taking the time to come down to the electorate of Wannon and speak with community groups and farmers and get a good grasp of what the needs are in our local community when it comes to environmental measures.
It is not great big new taxes. That is not what we are looking for. We are not looking for a great big new tax that will cripple our dairy industry. What we are looking for are good practical sustainable projects that will help our local environment on the ground. That is what the Green Army project is all about. It is sensible and practical and not only will it achieve good things on the ground but also it will provide potential pathways for young people into employment. So it is a program that deserves serious commendation.
The four projects that I got approval for in the lead-up to the election are interesting and diverse projects, and I will go through and mention them. The first is a commitment to preserve the Corangamite walking trails. As we all know, walking trails are very important to our local communities, because we want to make sure that the people are fit and active and that they have the space and trails to exercise in and use. But trails are also very important for tourism, because if you have excellent trails, tourists will come and use them. It is fantastic for your local community, but it also brings in income for them, and this is what these Corangamite walking trails will do. So for us to be able to make sure that they are of a very good standard, that they have the right signage on them and that they can become an attraction not only for the local community but also for those outside the local community to come and use is a very good initiative. I congratulate the Corangamite local government for putting forward this proposal, and I hope that this initiative will be a Green Army success story. I was quite happy to support it, because I think it will be.
Another of the proposals was to do with Heytesbury Biofund project, which the parliamentary secretary came down and announced for me. With a local workforce capable of assisting the well-established Biofund project and community planning program, this project involves revegetation works in the Heytesbury region to increase biodiversity, protect waterways, improve water quality and provide buffers against impacts such as nutrition run-off. This project is in the heart of Australia’s best dairy producing area. It will work with landowners to make sure we continue to maintain the environment and that when it comes to nutrients and such things the run-offs do not impact on waterways et cetera?another excellent project, and I commend the Heytesbury District Landcare Network for their initiative in putting this project forward. The Heytesbury District Landcare Network is an excellent landcare network. They are engaged in the community, they have active people who are always looking for ways to improve the land in their region, and I commend them for putting this proposal forward.
The next proposal we were able to get is the Goldfields Employment and Learning Centre?trees for the Green Army project. This project is based in Maryborough, in a nursery where they are looking to work with local landcare groups not only to grow the shrubs but to go out and plant them and liaise with landcare groups and farmers to make sure they can be planted on the farms where the shrubs are needed. Once again, the Goldfields Employment and Learning Centre has done a great job in putting this proposal forward. They understand, because they spend a lot of time with young people in the central goldfields area trying to help them in the learning and engagement space. They see this as a key initiative for making sure the young people in that community have another pathway to potential employment?again, an excellent proposal. I look forward to working with them to make sure this project hits the ground running and does the much-needed work that is required in that area to ensure that young people, especially those with socioeconomic disadvantage, have this opportunity to get out there, do some meaningful and worthwhile work, and get the experience that comes with doing that?and then get the self-confidence to be able to go on and find work.
The final proposal is the Moyne Resilient Farms Project. Once again, this was announced by the parliamentary secretary when he came down to Wannon. It will provide landholders in the Moyne Resilient Farms Project with a local workforce capable of assisting with tree planting, weed removal and direct seeding. A key part of the project is that landholders are responsible for securing planting labour externally or providing it for themselves. The Green Army commitment will ensure that landholders with large quantities of trees to plant can access local labour and provide youth with on-hand real job opportunities in the rural landscape, which needs skilled young people to fill future jobs. This is a way of saying to young people, ‘Come and get some experience, come and get some practice?especially when it comes to farming?and there are potential opportunities there for you then to join that local workforce.’
One of the things we are finding in the agricultural sector is that there are opportunities there for young people who do want to get work in the agricultural sector. So if you are prepared to engage and you are prepared to say ‘Yes, this is the type of work that I want to do’, then there are opportunities there, and this project is one way of giving young people some experience of what it is like to work on the land. It is not for everyone; it is not easy. But if you come and do it and like the experience, there are work opportunities there for you. I think that is the key thing. It is encouraging young people and showing them that there are opportunities there, and doing so in a worthwhile way, doing so in a way where they get that sense of pride from being able to say?and I must confess I have done this myself?’I put that tree plantation in.’ And one of the things about putting tree plantations in as a young boy is that I have had the joy later in life of going back and seeing those trees fully grown. It is not going to change the earth, but it is a small contribution that you have made, and it is something that gives you great pride. And I must say that even at home on our very small nuisance block, I have planted some trees with my youngest daughter, and I take great pride in watching that plantation grow. Two years ago the trees were up to my knees. They were as high as she was. Now they tower above her and they are higher than me?that is in a couple of years. You get a great sense of achievement in saying that is something which is permanent. That is just one example of what this Green Army project can provide.
I must confess the way the Minister for the Environment has gone out and advocated on behalf of this Green Army Program is a credit to him. He obviously has grasped and understands clearly the benefits this program can bring. He has very much lead the way in going around the countryside and making sure that there are projects right across Australia which are now going to be rolled out since the Australian people made the decision that they wanted to elect a new government to get Australia heading on the right path again. This is another one of those commitments that we took to the election which is now being implemented.
One of the key things about this program is that the policy was well thought out. It is being well laid out and it is not being rushed. So we are going to ensure that it is administered and implemented in the correct way. We are now seeing the tragedy in the evidence at the pink batts royal commission about a program which was rushed when it was implemented, where OH&S was not taken into consideration. What we are seeing here is a minister on top of his brief, a program which is being well thought out and sensible, which will lead to real, tangible benefits. This is important. I hope those on the other side have taken note of that and are starting to understand that, if they ever are given the opportunity again, this is the way to go about developing and implementing policy. I really do hope that they are learning the lessons about what a good, mature, adult government can deliver and how to go about delivering for the Australian people. We see through this program and in particular through the budget last night that the adults are back in charge and this nation is all the better for it.