The Coalition’s Green Army policy has two objectives – environmental regeneration, and jobs training for school leavers and unemployed youths between 17 and 24 years.
Experts are divided over the environmental merits of the scheme – but there are also concerns about the Green Army’s effectiveness in tackling youth unemployment.
Veronica Sheen, a Monash University research associate specialising in employment and labour market policy, told New Matilda that while scheme was a solid proposal in itself, it must be part of a border suite of policies around youth unemployment to make any substantial difference.
“It is quite a small program and we shouldn’t see it as any sort of solution to youth unemployment.”
“This does need to be embedded into a much boarder set of policies around youth unemployment, especially [the]reinvigoration of the TAFE and VET training and education system, and the reinvigoration of apprenticeships” she said.
Sheen also said the program needed to ensure equal access for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“A larger problem would be making sure that young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds have access to the program and ensuring that those young people who haven’t finished school, maybe have dropped out earlier, are well represented in the project,” she said.
The Coalition aims to have 15,000 participants across 1500 projects each year by 2018-19. These participants would then have the option of further education and training, and potential employment with councils, environmental businesses and state and national parks.
Participants will receive a trainee wage of up to $16.03 per hour. Projects could also count towards relevant certificate-level qualifications.
Environmental not-for-profits Conservation Volunteers Australia and Greening Australia, involved in the Howard government’s Green Corps program (which ran between 1997 and 2009), are optimistic about participation rates and jobs outcomes. Both organisations were named by shadow environment minister Greg Hunt’s office as being involved in Green Army training.
“We favour the payment of a training allowance and past experience indicates that it will be well received by the target demographic and will increase ongoing employment prospects of participants,” CVA, which declined requests for an interview, said in a written statement to NM.
Greening Australia told NM the Green Army had the potential to make environmental restoration increasingly mainstream.
“The whole environmental restoration area needs to be more mainstream. There needs to be real jobs at the end of it and it needs to be properly valued long term,” said the head of marketing and communications, Jonathan Duddles.
The organisation also wants to see the scheme open to people of all ages.
“It can be older people as well. I think older people can contribute in really meaningful ways through this program too,” said Duddles.
Neil Perry, a lecturer in corporate social responsibility and sustainability at the University of Western Sydney, told NM the Green Army had the potential to be more effective as a jobs — rather than an environmental — scheme, but should focus building a workforce for renewable energy industries.
“They could be targeting those long-term unemployed people or the people transitioning out of traditional emissions intensive industries so they change the focus of the Australian economy away form industrial pollution and towards more renewable energy,” he said.
But Murdoch University Professor of Sustainability Glenn Albrecht told NM chronic underfunding of the environmental sector meant there would not be the jobs to sustain potential demand.
“We have a chronic lack of professional people in national parks and wildlife… A tiny, tiny percentage of them will end of having full time and continuing employment in that area,” he said.
Albrecht would prefer to see the expansion of existing national parks and wildlife services.
“I would take it seriously if there was movement from the temporary training into a professional career within chronically underfunded and understand areas of environmental repair that we have — namely national parks and wildlife service[s],” he said.
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