The Abbott government has revealed it will be investing more than $800 million in its so-called Green Army – so far the only tangible aspect of its Direct Action scheme – despite earlier estimates (still on the website) that it would cost only $50 million in the first year and a maximum $300 million.
In its budget update released on Tuesday, the Coalition said it had earmarked $300 million for the first four years of the Green Army scheme, with a further $222.1 million in 2017‑18 and $289.2 million in 2018‑19 – the cost of which will be partially offset by a reduction in income support payments in the Social Services portfolio.
This generous allocation of funds to establish what the Coalition has described as the “largest standing environmental workforce in Australia’s history” (and for which many other creative names and uses have been suggested) comes as federal Treasurer Joe Hockey paints the picture of a bleak economic outlook for Australia, projecting $123 billion worth of deficits over the next four years.
Releasing the governmnet’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report, also on Tuesday, Hockey revealed a revenue collapse of $16.8 billion for the year contributing to a deficit in June 2014 expected to reach $47 billion.
But according to the details of the MYEFO, there will be plenty of green policy savings to help plug Australia’s deficit – as well as fund its biggest working bee. These include $1.4 million over four years from reduced funding to the Biodiversity Fund (which also stands to be abolished as part of repealing the carbon tax), and $45 million over four years from downsizing (and redirecting) the former Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
Another $1.3 billion in savings are also expected to arise from abolishing a “range of initiatives associated with the carbon tax,” including the Climate Commission (gone), the not-yet-gone Clean Energy Finance Corporation (although the CEFC says the opposite and will actually save money), and reduced funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency from 2014‑15.
The government also expects to save $5.3 billion over three years by abolishing business compensation measures associated with the carbon tax from 1 July 2014, including the Jobs and Competitiveness Program, Energy Efficiency Information Grants, the Clean Energy Skills Package, the Supporting Jobs Package, Clean Technology Programs, and the Steel Transformation Plan.
So what will the $800 million-plus pay for? According to the Coalition’s Policy for a Green Army, the funds will help establish a 15,000-strong force of “young people” – initially 17-24 year-olds – whose main objective will be combating land degradation, cleaning up waterways, riverbanks and creek beds, and re-vegetating sand dunes and mangrove habitats.
The government says a range of potential projects have already been submitted for consideration, including weed eradication, coastal stabilisation works, river clearing, Indigenous-focused projects and rural projects.