CANBERRA – The Turnbull Government is poised to kill off a key legacy item of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a move which appears to explain the Government's deal with the Greens on the backpacker tax.
The Australian Financial Review reports the troubled Green Army of young (17-24 years) jobseekers "enlisted" to restore the environment is set to be dumped in the December 19 budget update, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), saving more than $350 million.
Green Army participants did manual labour such as weeding and clearing creeks in return for half the minimum wage with the government describing it as "training and experience", but the program – which started in mid-2014 - suffered injuries and drop-outs and was criticised for diverting funds from other environmental projects.
Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg calls the Green Army a "very successful project". Won't confirm its demise. #auspol— Tom McIlroy (@TomMcIlroy) December 4, 2016
The Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg did not rule out the axing on the ABC's AM program.
"We have to find savings across the board," he said.
Malcolm Turnbull refuses to answer questions about axing the Green Army, says we'll find out in MYEFO. pic.twitter.com/shE9sPDeRx— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) December 5, 2016
It comes just days after the Government side-stepped Labor and crossbench senators to strike a deal with the Greens to find $100 million to fund the environmental volunteer group Landcare over four years for support for a 15 percent backpacker tax.
The office of Greens Leader Richard Di Natale has told the Huffington Post Australia that the Green Army did not come up in negotiations last week, but the Greens are happy to see it go.
"We opposed it from the beginning," a spokesman said.
"It is not an environmental program. It is an employment program, and a bad one at that".
The Opposition is also not wanting to keep the Green Army marching.
Govt cut $350m from Green Army today. That puts the deal with the Greens for $100m for Landcare into context.#auspol— Tony Burke (@Tony_Burke) December 4, 2016
Labor's environment spokesman Tony Burke said "The Green Army was never the most effective environmental program".
"This puts the Greens deal for $100 million into Landcare into context."
It does beg the question, where is the other $250 million?
Landcare management has been critical of the Green Army saying it was worthwhile but not without "pitfalls", and its volunteers had been "disenfranchised" by the funding for the rival program.
The Environment Minister has defended the Abbott-era program.
"Well the Green Army has been a very successful program of the Coalition," Frydenberg said.
"We've had more than 1,000 projects right around the country whether it is planting 2 million trees as a result of the Green Army or ridding 90,000 hectares of weeds."