Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Green Loans Program

3:29 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today, relating to the Green Loans Program.

It is shocking to me that a minister of the government can say now about the Green Loans Program: ‘We said that there would be 360,000 assessments. We were going to do that over four years. We never guaranteed anybody work.’ Why would anyone spend $3,000 or $4,000 on training and setting up a business if they did not have a clear understanding that the program was going to go for four years and that there would be an equitable distribution of the work? Where would the value in their investment be? The minister just said, ‘We never guaranteed them that.’ I said that it was clear to the assessors when the Green Loans Program was announced that there would be a restriction on the number of assessors because clearly there was a restriction on the amount of funding and the number of assessments over the four years.

Everybody understood that 1,000 to 2,000 assessors would be trained and then there would be enough work for them. Now, as I indicated, 5,000 people have had their training and are accredited and another 5,000 have been trained. I received an email today from one of those people saying that she paid $3,000 and is now being told that there will be no work for her. Therefore she has been given the option before 14 February to cut her losses and cancel the application for registration, thereby losing some $1,400 and whatever the cancellation of the indemnity insurance will cost. Having failed to oversee the program and keep it to the 1,000 to 2,000 assessors as promised, we now have the situation where people who have paid for and done the training and are waiting to be accredited are being told, ‘You might as well get out and cut your losses because there is not going to be the work.’ There is talk around the traps that rather than the program going for four years it will be fully allocated by March.

The other issue that is really critical to me—and the minister did not answer this—is why the government gave preferential treatment to Fieldforce, why they have allowed big companies to come in and completely corner the market and have given them special access. I would like the minister to explain whether these companies have been given preferential treatment in terms of access to the bookings. This email suggests that Fieldforce is organised and knows exactly what it is doing in terms of capturing the market. They have a dedicated call centre and cross-promote the green loans with the other programs they operate. They give out free light globes and shower heads and do insulation installation. I understand, according to this, that they are getting into—if they have not done it already—PV and solar hot water installations. They hope to employ up to 300 assessors, paying them $60 per assessment. The Commonwealth pays $200, so who is getting the rest? There are no prizes for guessing who—the headquarters. Fieldforce are guaranteeing work seven days a week for 12 hours a day if you want it.

We are told that Fieldforce are saying to the assessors who are operating under their own ABN that, if a client expresses interest in a PV or solar hot water system, suggest that you can help them and you will get paid a commission of around $100-plus per system. That seems to be an incredible conflict of interest and contrary to the rules that were set down under this program. It desperately needs to be sorted out.

It is not good enough for the minister to say that she does not know whether any preferential treatment has been given. These small business people have been out of work for more than a month or six weeks. The big companies have bypassed the call centre and got an automatic login to the IT system and are subcontracting now through telemarketing. There are all these rorts going on. It is taxpayers’ money. As I indicated earlier, it is not just the loss of taxpayers’ money and the lack of accountability; where this really hurts is that people who are vulnerable, who have been unemployed and are getting into their own business, have been outlaying thousands of dollars for their own training on the understanding that they would get work and that this is a career path only to have it pulled out from underneath them. I think it is incumbent upon the government to tell these 5,000 people whether they are going to get accreditation now they have done the training or whether they are going to be just dumped on the scrap heap.

Question agreed to.