One of the centrepieces of former prime minister Tony Abbott’s environmental program, the Green Army, is set to be axed at the mid-year federal budget update later this month.
The $350 million the government will save from cutting the program will be used to cover the extra $100 million it promised to Landcare as part of a deal made with the Greens, the Australian Financial Review reports.
The Green Army was initially funded in 2014 by a $484 million cut to Landcare and was criticised by environmental groups as performing the exact same job as Landcare but with unemployed young people.
Environment minster Josh Frydenberg wouldn't confirm the closure of the program. Instead he told ABC radio on Monday morning that the government has "to find savings across the board".
The minister's office refused to clarify to BuzzFeed News, saying we would find out when the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) is released on December 19.
The Green Army was launched to fanfare in 2014, with then PM Tony Abbott and environment minister Greg Hunt heralding it as an excellent way to combat climate change and give young people work. In reality, the program saw out of work young people clear land for as little as half the minimum wage.
Tony Abbott said he's "dismayed" by reports the program may be scrapped.
"Not only has it been good for grass roots conservation but it got unemployed people working too," Abbott said in a Facebook post.
"It's a bad principle to axe your own policy for the Greens policy because it means that their priorities are more important than ours."
The Greens have laughed off this suggestion, saying they didn't know the program was slated to be disbanded.
Abbott said axing the program would "hardly be a smart move for a centre right government".
Greens leader Richard di Natale told BuzzFeed News he didn't know the program was on the chopping block when the party horse-traded with the Coalition last week, receiving the Landcare money in exchange for voting through the government's 15% backpacker tax.
During the deal, finance minister Mathias Cormann gave assurances to the Greens that none of the Landcare money was coming from other environmental programs.
But the Greens don't plan to pursue the government over the cuts, because they've always been against the manual labour program.
“We always opposed the Green Army," Greens leader Di Natale told BuzzFeed News.
The environmental party is against the program because it diverts funding from other environmental projects. Just because it's called "green" doesn't mean it's actually the best option for the environment, MPs have said.
"It was not an environmental program, it was an employment program and a bad one at that," Di Natale said.
Official figures indicate the Green Army is made up of 15,000 young people (17-24 year olds) and they're paid between $304.20 and $493.70 for up to 30 hours of work each week.
Earlier this year BuzzFeed News revealed the government spent $5 million creating ads to boost recruitment, with $3.4 million spent buying up advertising space.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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