Senator MILNE (2.23 pm)-My question is to the minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Senator Wong. Can the minister confirm that the government promised to limit the number of home sustainability assessors accredited to conduct its Green Loans Program to between 1,000 and 2,000 to ensure sustainable work would be available to each of them? Given that so many people invested thousands of dollars in undertaking training and establishing small businesses on the basis of that promise, can the minister now explain why the government has allowed 5,000 assessors to be trained and accredited with a further 5,000 trained and awaiting accreditation, destroying job security and undermining the viability of many businesses?
Senator WONG-I thank Senator Milne for the question. In relation to the first proposition, I do not have advice in the terms that the senator has asserted. I am not suggesting she has it wrong, but I do not have advice to that effect. I will certainly seek from Minister Garrett confirmation of that. I can advise that the assessors were required to be formally trained and that prospective assessors must undertake training from an RTO which was endorsed by the industry body, ABSA-the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors. I am also advised that ABSA did require that certificates of attainment be provided to them upon registration and Green Loans assessors must be registered with ABSA before becoming eligible to be contracted to the department. In relation to the quality of training-
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting-
Senator WONG-Did you have a question?
The PRESIDENT-Continue, Senator Wong. Ignore the interjection.
Senator WONG-Mr President, I did not realise that Senator Macdonald has joined the Greens over the-
The PRESIDENT-Senator Wong, ignore the interjection and just continue your answer.
Senator WONG-The government has a commitment under the Green Loans Program to provide for up to 360,000 assessments. Obviously, in any market it is a decision for individuals about whether they want to start a business and to enter that market. Obviously, given the nature of the government's commitments, which were laid out by the minister, there is a possibility that some assessors who enter the program in the later stages may receive little or no work. The contract that all assessors must sign clearly states that there is no guarantee of work.
Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for the answer and look forward to Minister Garrett explaining why there are now 10,000 people when the government promised 1,000 to 2,000. I further ask the minister: can she tell us why preferential treatment has been given to large companies dominating the market, allowing Fieldforce, for example, special arrangements to bypass the call centre booking procedures and to bypass the restrictions on the number of assessments that are still in place for small business? (Time expired)
Senator WONG-I do not have any advice which confirms the assertion of preferential treatment. That is the basis on which the question was asked. I will certainly ascertain whether that is the case, but that is not the advice that I have. The government did engage in an arrangement with ABSA-the industry body-to deal with these training requirements and the government has progressed the training through the auspices of ABSA. In addition, as I said, the commitment was for 360,000 assessments. Obviously, there was no guarantee of work for any particular assessor at any stage.
Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Perhaps the minister could table at a later date the special arrangements in place between the federal government and some of these companies. Could she also indicate whether those arrangements waive restrictions placed on all other assessors not to promote or canvas their own products or companies? Who in the department is overseeing the rules about promoting and canvassing other products and being out there actively canvassing for business contrary to those rules?
Senator WONG-I do not know which public servant is responsible for what aspect of this program-and I would not have thought that the senator would expect me to know that. In relation to the assertion as to preferential treatment, I will refer back to my second answer, which is that I do not have any advice that that is the case. You then asked a series of questions predicated on that assumption. I will certainly take advice as to whether or not that is the case. As I said previously, I can indicate we had a very clear commitment to a certain number of assessments. There has been a very great take-up in relation to this program. The government gave no guarantees to assessors as to whether or not work would be available to them.