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Tony Abbott’s Green Army whitewash


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By Cassandra Devine

Researcher at the ACTU

Wednesday, 02 July 2014

IT sounds like a great idea on the surface: take a group of 15,000 young unemployed people between the ages of 17 to 24 years old and get them working outdoors to save the environment.

But the Coalition’s green exterior is merely a mask for a massive whitewashing exercise designed to create a cheap, underpaid source of labour forced into doing our country’s dirty work.

The Coalition has championed the Green Army as the main centerpiece of its so-called ‘direct action’ model, which, if it can get through the Senate, proposes to cut CO2 emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

The Green Army, which began on 1 July, is a six-month conservation program administered by external, private or not-for-profit providers and subcontractors.

The government has said that the program will be ‘voluntary’, but given its new punitive measures to cut off the Youth Allowance to jobseekers every six months, it’s hard to see how any young person could avoid signing up for the program if they’re desperate for money.

No formal training provided

Although the program is billed as a great training opportunity for young people, there is no requirement for the providers to give the participants any formal sort of training in the form of a traineeship or apprenticeship.

Despite this, the workers in the Green Army program will be paid less than the minimum wage, with rates sets at between $10.14 and $16.45 an hour, based on the training wage.

On top of that, they won’t be able to receive their Youth Allowance while they’re on the program, and will be required to work full-time hours, leaving them no time to attend interviews or participate in job search activities.

Even more concerning, the government has moved to pass a Bill that will exclude the workers from coverage under the Fair Work Act, meaning they’re not entitled to the usual rights to annual leave, public holidays, or protection from being unfairly dismissed or discriminated against in the workplace.

It also looks like they might fall through the cracks of our workplace health and safety scheme, because guess what? The government is exempting them from Australia’s work health and safety laws too!

If this is truly a genuine training opportunity for Australia’s young, then why not put them on a proper traineeship with the possibility of a real job at the end of it? Instead, the so-called Green Army will be forced into picking up rubbish and doing other unskilled labour when they could be out looking for a secure and more permanent job.

These workers deserve proper wages, but the program simply hasn’t been given enough funding to make that happen.

A clever act of switcheroo

To pay for the $525 million program over the next four years, the Coalition has engaged in a clever act of switcheroo, by axing about $484 million from the Landcare budget.

Landcare is a proven conservation method engaging genuine community volunteers in environment projects. So, not only is the Green Army a bad employment program, but it’s also bad for the environment, by taking away much-needed funds from existing conservation efforts.

The way to get young people into meaningful employment is to give them the skills and training they need to get a leg up in the job market – not to waste their time on picking up rubbish, work designed primarily to keep them busy but for no other meaningful purpose.

If the government was serious about the environment and youth unemployment, then it would keep the carbon tax, put funding back into Landcare, and fund fairly paid traineeships for young Australians who are out of work.

Until then, it’s up to the union movement to call out the Green Army for what it really is – just a whitewash.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. James
    Thursday, 3 July, 2014 at 12:18 am · Reply

    Workers that don’t have access to FW or WHS laws?/?
    Yeah, that’s not we’re talking about.

  2. P.Cogale
    Thursday, 3 July, 2014 at 10:42 am · Reply

    Everytime I see something on the news about the Liberals I get cranky. I’m sure there are some good things out there but they aren’t being published. But I tell you what, I’ve always been a Liberal voter but not anymore. I never thought I would be saying that.

  3. Vivian Langford
    Friday, 4 July, 2014 at 10:32 am · Reply

    What us this green army going to fo to actually reduce carbon emissions?
    What are the unions going to do about this scheme which sound like it us unjust and ineffective?

    • roslyn
      Sunday, 6 July, 2014 at 6:18 pm · Reply

      I am sure it will have little effect on carbon emissions. This govt. is all about ideologies, this ideology is all about getting the young dole bludgers working, and to satisfy the ignorant Murdoch brainwashed voters into thinking that they are doing something about it. Its all lies.

  4. Paul B.
    Friday, 4 July, 2014 at 11:44 am · Reply

    Doesn’t one find oneself almost thinking that the kennett admin was innocent compared to this dropkick! (Abbot)..however facism always has that tad smell of human/social deacy…hmmm!

  5. roberta f
    Friday, 4 July, 2014 at 4:29 pm · Reply

    So does that mean that if someone gets hurt they are not covered, and theres no job at the end. and to live on scabby wages
    why dont you just get rid of us all , or are we going to live in a 3rd world country. get real

  6. heather ruth farrent
    Saturday, 5 July, 2014 at 4:45 pm · Reply

    So what do we, as Union people do about it?

  7. KH
    Saturday, 5 July, 2014 at 5:07 pm · Reply

    Any Australian whom doesn’t shop on rodeo drive, holiday in the Swiss alps every winter, has a chauffer driven car, which equates to 99.9% of Australians. ******NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND THE FOLLOWING******
    Australians need to understand that the LNP are driven only to assist and satisfy one demographic, “The big end of town”, in the hope that one day they too will consider themselves a member of the club.
    In the eyes of the LNP the working class Australians are over paid and have to many protectionist rights. It is their “MANDATE” to push you back down to were you belong the gutter.

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