Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009


Index

Bills Digest no. 43 2009–10

Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009

WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage history
Purpose
Background
Financial implications
Main provisions
Concluding comments
Contact officer & copyright details


Passage history

Date introduced: 17 September 2009

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Employment and Workplace Relations

Commencement: Upon Royal Assent

Links: The relevant links to the Bill, Explanatory Memorandum and second reading speech can be accessed via BillsNet, which is at http://www.aph.gov.au/bills/. When Bills have been passed they can be found at ComLaw, which is at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/.

Purpose

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Social Security Act 1991 to enable the temporary payment of a $41.60 supplement per fortnight to participants in the National Green Jobs Corps program who are in receipt of Youth Allowance (other), Newstart Allowance or the Parenting Payment. The supplement is to be payable to those people who participate in the National Green Jobs Corps between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2011.

Background

In his opening address to the ALP National Conference on 30 July 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the Federal Government would spend $94 million over three years to create 50 000 new green jobs and training places.[1] The green jobs and training package is comprised of 30 000 apprenticeships to equip young people with practical job-ready green skills; 10 000 places in the National Green Jobs Corps; 6000 new local jobs that focus on environmental sustainability in communities struggling as a result of the financial crisis; and, 4000 training places for long-term and disadvantaged unemployed people in ceiling insulation installation.[2] The package is intended to serve two main purposes: firstly, it is to help combat youth unemployment in a time of economic downturn (in which young unemployed people are typically the worst hit) and, secondly, it is to assist in tackling environmental problems and the impacts of climate change.[3]

The National Green Jobs Corps program is described as a 26 week environmental work experience and training program that is targeted at low-skilled (that is people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months, and especially those who have not completed Year 12) 17 to 24 year olds.[4] Participants are to undertake work experience and skills development on environmental and heritage projects, with 130 hours of this training leading to a nationally-recognised qualification (such as a Certificate I or a Certificate II qualification in horticulture or conservation and land management).[5] Participation in the program will also enable young unemployed people to meet their participation obligations for the receipt of Youth Allowance (other), Newstart Allowance or Parenting Payment income support.

The program itself is not new: a Green Corps program has been operating continuously in Australia from 1997 to 30 June 2009. What is new is that participants in the updated and re-named program are to be provided (at least temporarily) with a supplement to their income support payments both as an incentive to participate in the program and to assist in this participation. This amounts to an extension of the existing Training Supplement paid to eligible Newstart Allowance and Parenting Payment Single recipients who commence approved courses between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011 to National Green Jobs Corps program participants.[6]

Commentary and analysis

To date, there has been very little specific commentary on the Bill itself, or on the National Green Jobs Corps program. Much of the relevant discussion has focused instead on the general announcement that the Government would create 50 000 new green jobs, traineeships and apprenticeships. In particular, commentary has centred on the question of just how many new jobs as opposed to training and work experience places would actually be created as a part of the initiative. And it is in relation to the National Green Jobs Corps program that this question has been asked most pointedly.

Work or training?

Almost immediately following the Prime Minister s announcement, Senator Mark Arbib, the newly-appointed Minister for Employment Participation, was asked whether the 10 000 National Green Jobs Corps places were jobs or training places. In response, Senator Arbib is reported to have said, it s a fine line. Work experience, though, is a job. These people will be working, day in, day out, on these green projects. They will be getting paid to do that work. It is a job. [7] Senator Arbib was at the time unable to clarify whether or not participants would continue to be paid income support whilst on the program, and admitted that he was not clear on the details of the program.

In response to Senator Arbib s comments, the Shadow Minister for Employment Participation, Training and Sport Dr Andrew Southcott MP, argued that the National Green Jobs Corps places are work experience and not jobs. Dr Southcott is reported as having stated, they are not jobs, and it is incredibly disturbing that the Minister for Employment Participation thinks they are. [8]

Following similar lines, Dr Southcott was critical of the Prime Minister s announcement as a whole. Dr Southcott reportedly described the announcement as seriously misleading on the grounds that not only are there only 6000 actual jobs, opposed to 44 000 training or work experience placements, but these jobs are from the Jobs Fund that has been announced on several occasions. [9] This last charge that the announcement was largely an exercise in recycling of previously announced initiatives is one that Southcott specifically levelled at the National Green Jobs Corps:

Green Corps was an initiative of the former Coalition Government. Labor has added in the word Jobs to the name, yet has failed to define a pathway between this training and an actual, paid job.[10]

National Green Jobs Corps - a new initiative?

It is indeed the case that the Green Corps was a Coalition Government initiative. The Green Corps program was announced in the federal budget on 20 August 1996, and commenced in 1997. Despite the change in name, the program remains essentially the same. However, there are two main differences between the Green Corps and National Green Jobs Corps programs. The first is that where the program was previously for young people aged between 17 and 20 years, it has now been expanded to include 17 to 25 year olds. The second difference is the payment of the $41.60 training supplement to program participants in addition to Youth Allowance (other), Newstart Allowance or Parenting Payment, rather than a single training allowance payment.

While it may be argued that the National Green Jobs Corps is essentially a rebadged Coalition Government initiative, it has equally been argued that the Coalition Government s Green Corp was itself, to all intents and purposes, a rebadged Labor initiative.

In 1992 the Keating Government established the Landcare and Environment Action Programme, known as LEAP. This program, which was administered by the then Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) sought primarily to improve the long-term employment prospects of young people aged between 15 and 20 years through formal training and practical experience. The program also aimed to broaden participants practical know-how and to equip them with new skills specifically for projects promoting landcare, environment, cultural heritage and conservation activities.[11]

The course consisted of 26 weeks of formal and on-the-job training, which was delivered by service providers contracted by DEET through a public tendering process. Service providers made available practical experience placements within projects that were focused on landcare, cultural heritage or conservation. Participants were paid a taxable training allowance that varied according to their age. The LEAP program was open to all young people aged 15 to 20 years who were registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES), but special priority was given to long term unemployed and disadvantaged job seekers.[12]

The LEAP program ended when the Keating Government lost office in 1996 and, as noted above, the new Howard Government introduced the Green Corps program soon after.

When asked in an interview on 23 August 1996 what he thought of the new Green Corps program, the then leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, reportedly described it as the rebadged LEAP program. Beazley went on to accuse the Howard Government of rebadging the program at about a tenth of the expenditure that was invested by the former Labor Government.[13]

In response to claims that the Green Corps program was basically LEAP rebadged, on 12 May 1998, Tony Abbott, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, insisted that the

Green Corps is different from previous environmental jobs programmes (such as LEAP) because it comprises volunteers only and is managed, on the Government s behalf, by a respected, community-based environmental organisation, the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Green Corps is not confined to unemployed young people and involves a full-time commitment to the environment with payment at the rate of the national training wage.[14]

While there were certainly differences between the two programs, arguably, the point that the Green Corps program was comprised of volunteers only and not confined to unemployed young people was not a significant distinction. In reality, most Green Corps participants would have been unemployed prior to commencing the program.[15] These participants are likely to have been attracted to the program, in part, because they would not have had to satisfy mutual obligations requirements while receiving a training allowance.

What is a green job?

Some commentators, including Sharan Burrow of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, have welcomed the Government s green jobs plan as providing support for young Australians hit hard by the economic slowdown.[16] Others, such as Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group, have argued that the plan will help to tackle the deficit in Australia s national green skills capability.[17] Tony Mohr of the Australian Conservation Foundation has similarly approved of the focus on green jobs.[18] However, in the case of the National Green Jobs Corps initiative, it is by no means clear that the work experience and training provided will result in participants gaining employment in (green) jobs.

Indeed, some have questioned just what the designation green jobs actually means.[19] For example, Leon Gettler has used the UN environment program s definition of green jobs to illustrate how broad the category is, and to question just how many supposedly green jobs actually contribute to environmental sustainability as well as to the economy.[20] While Gettler does not doubt that the green economy will create industries, jobs and investment opportunities, he does query how many real green jobs are actually out there. And, in the absence of guaranteed real green jobs, Gettler poses the question: Is the Green Jobs Corps a Work for the Dole scheme in disguise?[21]

Viability of the program

Some environmental and training groups that are likely to take part in the National Green Jobs Corps program have claimed that the program s proposed funding structure creates a disincentive for agencies to help program participants to find paid employment. Under the draft program rules, participating agencies will receive payments at the commencement, half-way and completion points of a project, based on the number of participants involved in the project. Thus, should participants leave the project to take up paid employment and not be replaced, training providers will lose funding.[22]

It is worth noting that one commentator, at least, has proposed means of getting around this problem. It is reported that Greening Australia s South Australian chief executive, Mark Anderson has suggested that employment agencies could creatively structure programs, including taking on a series of teams of trainees, to avoid losing funding when participants find paid work, and take on larger projects that will require more than 26 weeks to complete. [23]

Despite the relatively small number of training places in the program over two years, Jobs Australia chief executive, David Thompson has indicated that it is by no means clear that the places would lead to jobs. Without additional funding for places and jobs, Thompson is also reported as having suggested that the scheme could become unviable.[24]

Is the training supplement sufficient incentive?

Some commentators have criticised the fortnightly training supplement to be provided to National Green Jobs Corps program participants as being insufficient. According to Environmental Training and Employment general manager Greg Bird, the supplement, when combined with participants income support payments, is less than the amount that participants received under the previous Green Corps program.[25] Without a stronger financial incentive for young unemployed people, Job Futures chief executive Lisa Fowkes has argued that it would be difficult to motivate them to participate in the program. If the program is not to resemble Work for the Dole, Fowkes maintains that participants efforts need to be properly remunerated: one of the marks of whether society values what you do is if you are paid for your work .[26]

The National Green Jobs Corps program supplement amount is consistent with other like training supplements, but double the Work for the Dole supplement of $20.80.

Financial implications

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the National Green Jobs Corps supplement will cost $3.4 million over the period 2009 to 2012, with costs to Centrelink yet to be agreed.[27]

Main provisions

Amendments to the Social Security Act 1991

Item 1 inserts a definition of the National Green Jobs Corps program into subsection 23(1) and Item 2 inserts a definition of the National Green Jobs Corps supplement into the same subsection.

Item 3 inserts a new paragraph, 23(4AA)(ab), the effect of which is that for the purposes of determining whether the National Green Jobs Corps supplement remains payable, a person will be taken to receive income support for a given period after that payment or allowance ceases as a result of an increase in the participant s or their partner s income. This is consistent with the treatment of other supplements under the Act.[28]

Item 4 inserts a new section, 503C, which provides for a person at least 17 and under 25 years of age in receipt of a parenting payment to receive the National Green Jobs Corps supplement on a fortnightly basis, so long as they are participating in the program. However, new paragraph 503C(3)(a) specifies that a person will not be paid the supplement for a fortnight during which they are supposed to be participating in the National Green Jobs Corps program as a part of their Parenting Payment Employment Pathway Plan, but cease to participate in the program in circumstances that amount to a failure to comply with the plan. New paragraph 503C(3)(b) provides that where a person qualifies for receipt of both the National Green Jobs Corps supplement and another training supplement in a given fortnight, only the training supplement will be paid.

Item 5 inserts a new subsection, 541(1C), which provides that a person satisfies the Youth Allowance activity test for a given period if they participate in the National Green Jobs Corps program throughout that period.

Item 6 inserts a new section, 556B, which provides for a person at least 17 years of age who is in receipt of Youth Allowance (pursuant to section 540 of the Act) and not studying full-time to receive the National Green Jobs Corps supplement on a fortnightly basis, so long as they are participating in the program. The person is not to be paid the supplement under this section if they are over the age of 21 years, and thus no longer qualify for Youth Allowance. New subsection 556B(2) provides for a person who is a participant in the National Green Jobs Corps program and in receipt of Youth Allowance to receive the National Green Jobs Corps supplement on a fortnightly basis, so long as they are participating in the program. New subsection 556B(3) states that a person will not be paid the supplement for a fortnight during which they are supposed to be participating in the National Green Jobs Corps program as a part of their Youth Allowance Employment Pathway Plan, but fail to participate in the program in circumstances that amount to a failure to comply with the plan.

Item 7 inserts a new sub-section, 601(4D), which provides that a person also satisfies the Newstart activity test for a given period if they participate in the National Green Jobs Corps program throughout that period.

Item 9 inserts a new section, 645, which provides for a person under the age of 25 years and in receipt of Newstart Allowance to receive the National Green Jobs Corps supplement on a fortnightly basis, so long as they are participating in the program. The person is not to be paid the supplement under this section if they have yet to reach 21 years of age, and thus do not qualify for Newstart Allowance. New paragraph 645(3)(a) provides that a person will not be paid the supplement for a fortnight during which they are supposed to be participating in the National Green Jobs Corps program as a part of their Newstart Allowance Employment Pathway Plan, but fail to participate in the program in circumstances that amount to a failure to comply with the plan. New paragraph 645(3)(b) provides that where a person qualifies for receipt of both the National Green Jobs Corps supplement and another training supplement in a given fortnight, only the training supplement will be paid.

Under items 10 and 11, where a person is entitled to the National Green Jobs Corps supplement and a language, literacy and numeracy or CDEP scheme participant supplement, respectively, in the same fortnight, only the National Green Jobs Corps supplement is payable.

Items 12 and 13 provide that where a person receives a National Green Jobs Corps supplement to which they are not entitled, this amount becomes a debt that must be paid to the Commonwealth.

Concluding comments

The Bill will provide, over a two year period, regular additional financial support to National Green Jobs Corps program participants. It is not clear, however, that the supplement will offer sufficient incentive to entice many would-be participants into the program. And, in the absence of sufficient numbers of program participants, concerns have been expressed that the program may not be viable for participating employment and training agencies. Further, this situation could be exacerbated by the program s proposed funding formula, which has been described by some as problematic, given that agencies stand to lose funding where program participants find paid work. Questions have also been raised as to the number of relevant green jobs that are available, and thus whether or not the training and experience to be provided to those who do participate in the National Green Jobs Corps program will prove worthwhile in terms of employment outcomes.

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia

 

Members, Senators and Parliamentary staff can obtain further information from the Parliamentary Library on (02) 6277 2505.



[1]. K Rudd (Prime Minister of Australia), Address to ALP National Conference , Sydney, 30 July 2009, viewed 16 October 2009, http://www.pm.gov.au/node/6079

[2]. K Rudd, 2009.

[3]. J Clare, Second Reading Speech: Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009 , House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 2009, p. 9886, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansardr/2009-09-17/0009/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

[4]. Explanatory Memorandum, Social Security Amendment (National Green Jobs Corps Supplement) Bill 2009, p. 1.

[5]. J Clare, p. 9886.

[6]. The temporary Training Supplement was announced in the 2009 10 Budget. See Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no 2: 2009 10, Commonwealth of Australia, 2009, p. 177, viewed 15 October 2009, http://www.aph.gov.au/budget/2009-10/content/bp2/html/index.htm. For an analysis of the Training Supplement initiative, see P Yeend, Social Security Amendment (Training Incentives) Bill 2009, Bills digest, no. 164, 2008 09, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 12 June 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://www.aph.gov.au/Library/pubs/bd/2008-09/09bd164.pdf

[7]. Arbib floundering on green jobs details , Australian Associated Press, 31 July 2009.

[8]. A Southcott, Minister confuses work experience with a job , media release, 30 July 2009;
D Shanahan and E Hannan, Arbib puts Rudd s 50,000 green jobs down to experience , The Australian, 31 July 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/HD9U6/upload_binary/hd9u60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Arbib%20puts%20Rudds%2050,000%20green%20jobs%20down%20to%20experience%22

[9]. A Southcott, Recycled Announcements but no New Green Jobs , media release, 30 July 2009; A Southcott, Labor Circus on Green Jobs , media release, 31 July 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressrel/2FAU6/upload_binary/2fau60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Labor%20Circus%20on%20Green%20Jobs%22. Greg Hunt (Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water) and Malcolm Turnbull (Leader of the Opposition) have both similarly criticised the announcement as being a rebadging or recycling of existing initiatives. See D Shanahan and E Hannan, 2009 and D Shanahan, PM admits 50,000 green jobs not new , Weekend Australian, 1 August 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/VR9U6/upload_binary/vr9u60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22PM%20admits%2050,000%20green%20jobs%20not%20new%22

[10]. A Southcott, Recycled Announcements but no New Green Jobs , media release, 30 July 2009.

[11]. Department of Employment, Education and Training, LEAP: The Landcare and Environment Action Program: program guidelines, Canberra, DEET, 1994.

[12]. Department of Employment, Education and Training, 1994.

[13]. See Howard Sattler, Radio 6PR, Perth, 21 August 1996, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query%3D(Id%3Amedia%2Fpressrel%2Fhf130);rec%3D0

[14]. Tony Abbott, Growth for Green Corps , media release, 12 May 1998, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;db=;group=;holdingType=;id=;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=growth%20for%20green%20corps%20Dataset%3Apressrel,jrnart,jrnart88;querytype=;rec=0;resCount=Default

[15]. According to an evaluation of the Green Corps program released in 1999, of those participants from Rounds 1 to 5, 61 per cent were registered as unemployed prior to program commencement. See Commonwealth of Australia, It s why you re swinging the mattock An Evaluation of the Green Corps Programme Final Report, REB Report 2/99, May 1999, viewed 15 October 2009, http://www.voced.edu.au/docs/dest/TD_TNC_67_492.doc

[16]. A Symonds, Green jobs plan wins support , Australian Financial Review, 31 July 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/NG9U6/upload_binary/ng9u60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Green%20jobs%20plan%20wins%20support%22

[17]. D Cronin, PM vows to grow green job schemes , Canberra Times, 31 July 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/ZE9U6/upload_binary/ze9u60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22PM%20vows%20to%20grow%20green%20job%20schemes%22

[18]. D Shanahan and E Hannan, Arbib puts Rudd s 50,000 green jobs down to experience , The Australian, 31 July 2009.

[19]. Moreover, various commentators view the Government s focus on creating so-called green jobs as being misplaced. This argument has it that rather than attempt to create new, specialised green jobs and specialist workers (and, thus, a minority workforce), the government would do better to concentrate on ensuring that all workers are provided with more training in environmentally friendly business practices. See A Symonds, Sustainable trumps green , Australian Financial Review, 27 August 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/5FIU6/upload_binary/5fiu60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Sustainable%20trumps%20green%22; L Gettler, What exactly is a green job, Mr Rudd? , The Age, 5 August 2009, p. 12, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/MZAU6/upload_binary/mzau60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22What%20exactly%20is%20a%20green%20job%20Mr%20Rudd?%22. It should be noted that the Government is attempting to achieve just this through the provision of training in green skills to 30 000 apprentices in sectors such as the building and construction sectors.

[20]. L Gettler, p. 12. The UN environment program defines green jobs as: work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency strategies; de-carbonise the economy; and minimise or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

[21]. L Gettler, p. 12. Chris Berg, a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and editor of the IPA Review, mounts a similar argument to that of Gettler, but is more sceptical of the potential for a green economy and green jobs. In the context of the Government s green jobs plan, Berg posits that Australia s unemployed would no doubt be a lot happier to get back into work as soon as possible, rather than waiting to be funnelled into a hypothetical green job according to the Government s policy priorities. C Berg, Going green is just another rinse in government washer , Sunday Age, 9 August 2009, viewed 15 October 2009, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/download/media/pressclp/QFCU6/upload_binary/qfcu60.pdf;fileType=application/pdf#search=%22Going%20green%20is%20just%20another%20rinse%20in%20government%20washer%22

[22]. S Scott, p. 3.

[23]. S Scott, p. 3.

[24]. S Scott, p. 3.

[25]. S Scott, p. 3.

[26]. S Scott, p. 3.

[27]. Explanatory Memorandum, p. 2.

[28]. Explanatory Memorandum, p. 4.

Contact officer and copyright details

Matthew Thomas
20 October
Bills Digest Service
Parliamentary Library

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