24 June 2010

Media releases from yesterday's Green Loans rallies

What follows after the jump is a speech that I wrote for yesterday's United Programs of Australia rally in Adelaide. I didn't actually make the speech on the day: it would be an understatement to say that we didn't get the turnout in Adelaide that we hoped for. However, I did get ten minutes on ABC Radio in Canberra, and I got most of my points across in that. I understand that they found me via Senator Simon Birmingham's office, but in any case, I'm thankful for it.

Senator Birmingham also released a statement in support of our efforts, to go along with an official media release from Green Loans Assessors Action Group (one of the groups uniting for these rallies).

Thanks to everyone for coming. Firstly, I have to acknowledge a couple of colleagues of mine in the Green Loans Assessors Action Group – Patrick Moroney, Vicky Whiteman and Jacques Laxale – who have also organised protest rallies for this cause around Australia today. At this very moment, there is a rally being held in Sydney outside Kirribilli House, and another being held in Brisbane, and further rallies will be held on the Gold Coast and the Central Coast of NSW later today.

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Aaron Nielsen, and I organised the rally here in Adelaide today. My story started in a manner that is sadly all too common within the federal government’s Green Loans Program. Late last year, I trained to become a Home Sustainability Assessor, hoping for a foot in the door of the market for "green-collar" employment. However, thanks to Mr Garrett's announcement of changes to the program on 19 February, I was left without a contract to work in the program, and with a substantial investment that I no longer had any way to recoup.

Since then, I have been trying to piece together the story about what has happened. I keep a personal blog that has been all but dominated by articles that I have written about Green Loans this year, the first six of which became a submission to the current Senate Inquiry into the program. I have had little official support in doing so, despite my best efforts (or perhaps because of them) to seek and publish the truth. ABSA, our professional body, has shown me precious little support, and DEWHA and DCCEE offer little more than excuses.

Green Loans Assessors Action Group is campaigning on behalf of all assessors adversely affected by changes to the program. Those of us who are still conducting assessments are struggling with a limit of five jobs a week and the discontinuation of the Green Loans themselves. We estimate that many hundreds of assessors now want to leave the program but have no means of relinquishing their contracts. Those of us without contracts have little chance of getting one, now that the government has limited the program to 5000 assessors nationwide – well beyond the 1000-2000 originally envisioned – and yet has had some 9500 trained. In any case, we are part of a program originally set to run for four years that will be lucky to see out 18 months.

We are seeking compensation for all Home Sustainability Assessors who feel betrayed by the government’s changes to the program and the government’s inaction towards cleaning up the mess it has made. Some of us are still keen on the industry and would happily retrain for a more sustainable line of work (if you’ll pardon the expression). Others would simply prefer that our costs be reimbursed so that we can walk away with some level of dignity. In either case, this is where we need Senator Penny Wong to make some difficult decisions, and we have heard little from her department since it took over the program in March, and it is long overdue for her to make her intentions known.

While the Green Loans Program is my area of expertise, it’s not all we’re here to talk about. Our group is also reaching out to those who have been similarly disaffected by the Home Insulation Program, another federal government initiative that has suffered a calamitous fate. I was part of a contingent of Home Sustainability Assessors who conducted a protest in Canberra on 24 May, parallel to a protest by a group of like-minded insulation installers. Both groups were received that afternoon by politicians who were interested in our plight and what we hoped to achieve. We rallied as brothers-in-arms on the day, and I for one am hoping for that co-operation to continue in the future. We’ve also received some interest from other activists concerned about the wastage of taxpayers’ money, including that within the Education Revolution.

All of that being said, however, I would ask that you not misconstrue what we are doing as partisan politics. Elected officials on all sides of politics have shown interest in our protest today, although you may not see them here in the flesh as Parliament is sitting this week. I am looking forward to meeting with any interested parties, and I am certainly not here to campaign for one side of politics at the expense of another. We simply ask that the federal government consider the hardship that its decisions have caused and that its indecision continues to cause.

We who are here today are here simply because we deserve better. We are everyday Australians who stand up for what we believe in and what we know is right.

Before I take questions, I would just like to tip my hat to those Members and Senators who have contacted me with regard to the rally today. I’d like to thank MPs Peter Secker, Rowan Ramsey, Jamie Briggs and Kate Ellis, and Senators Nick Xenophon, Cory Bernardi and Alan Ferguson for their interest. I’d also like to make special mention of Greg Hunt and Senator Simon Birmingham, who received us in Canberra on 24 May, and of Senator Christine Milne, who has been a true hero to those of us in the Green Loans Program. I'd also like to thank Fiona McWhirter of the Sunday Mail for running a short piece about the rally, and Toni Peterson of Green-Eco Incentive Rebates for introducing me.

We will be back for further action in July and August, and we’ll have more details of those events closer to the date.

Thanks again to everyone who made the trip; I hope you’ll all walk a little taller today.

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