This program is an ill-conceived response to the enormous environmental
damage our community faces and does not adequately address the most important
environmental challenge of our time - climate change.
It is very unlikely to deliver genuine, lasting environmental outcomes
and it fails to support young people in finding meaningful work. It is very
likely to entrench young people in unemployment and poverty, while diverting
energy and resources away from more effective environmental programs.
It devalues the work of those who have trained for and pursued careers
in environmental protection and, due to the voluntary nature of the individual
training component, offers no genuine pathways into ongoing employment for
those who participate in the program.
For those who participate, there is no guarantee that it will be any
more effective or less degrading than the previous incarnations of this
program, such as the Green Corp and Work for the Dole.
On the weight of the evidence supplied to the committee, the Australian
Greens do not believe that this Bill should be passed.
This dissenting report will outline some of our key reasons why this
Bill should not be passed and this remains our overarching position, however
this report will also take the opportunity to provide some recommendations that
could lessen, but not completely offset, the negative impacts of this program
if it were to proceed.
The lack of accredited training pathways
While improving on previous incarnations of this program by introducing
flexible accredited training options, this program still fails to provide
appropriate training and support to applicants.
In the Green Army Programme, accredited training is an optional extra to
be negotiated with each individual rather than a core feature of the program.
This has the potential to be flexible and responsive to the individual needs of
the program participant, however, the National Union of Students submission
We are concerned that young people looking for work will be
in an unequal bargaining position when trying to negotiate training outcomes
For young people who are disengaged from learning and the workforce, it
is unlikely that they will know in advance of starting the program what sort of
training might lead to a positive personal outcome. Beyond a minimum level of
initial on-the-job training, the training component is actually optional, and
there is no reason given as to why participants are likely to opt-in to additional
This is coupled with the fact that there is no incentive within the
program funding for program coordinators to introduce another level of
complexity to their program by encouraging participants to develop a genuinely
tailored training plan or deliver specific training programs. The program
selection criteria only asks organisations who are submitting an application to
identify suitable training programs ‘where possible’ rather than requiring that
accredited training programs be integrated into the program design.
The Australian Greens agree with the National Union of Students that
beyond the initial project safety and cultural awareness training, accredited
training with a registered provider should be a core element of the Green Army
Programme and not an optional extra.
Furthermore, in order to offer genuine training opportunities which lead
to long-term outcomes there should be a built in periodic review of individual
Participation Agreements that provide an opportunity for participants to seek
additional training as their experience and skills develop.
That beyond the initial WHS and cultural awareness training, accredited
training with a registered provider is implemented as a core element of the
Green Army Programme rather than an optional extra, and that service providers
and team supervisors are contractually obligated to ensure that participants
are fully informed of their training options.
That participant program plans include a built in periodic review of
individual Participation Agreements and that all training options are presented
to the participant as part of this review.
The denial of workers conditions and insurance
The Australian Greens are also extremely concerned that participants in
the Green Army Programme will not have access to an appropriate number of hours
or the basic employment protections that other trainees are entitled to.
Suspending access to income support payments is extremely problematic if
the programs do not at least meet the income provided through a social security
Because there is no minimum guarantee of hours, it is possible for
individuals under the program to be worse off than if they were on Youth
The Australia Institute submission points out that:
The program plans to pay people for up to 30 hours a week for
up to 26 weeks but we do not know if the hours are to be regular nor how they
are to be agreed between the ‘employer’ and participant. It would be a cruel
outcome if participants were motivated to join but found they were earning less
than they had been on Newstart because the hours were not there. Likewise
someone who is sick or has other sudden family caring responsibilities may
suffer a drop in income. It is not clear that there are leave arrangements that
would be available to ordinary workers.
In effect participants are engaged in casual work and should either be
guaranteed a minimum number of hours, and appropriate sick and carer leave
provisions under the Bill, or should be able to retain access to income support
payments, with the income obtained through the program being treated as it
would be from any other source – i.e. effectively reducing the income support
That the Green Army Programme either be considered as ordinary income
and participants remain eligible for income support OR there is a mandated
minimum number of hours per week that ensures that the amount received by the
participant is not less than the amount they would have received under Youth
Allowance. If the age limit of the scheme is expanded, this guarantee of income
should be pegged to the amount received under Newstart for those eligible for
the Newstart payment.
The Bill removes Commonwealth protections for Green Army Programme
participants. Participants in the Green Army Programme are not regarded as
employees or trainees. Participants will not be entitled to the protection of
workplace health and safety laws and workers compensation laws, superannuation,
leave, job protection, anti-discrimination protection or fair dismissal
While this is consistent with earlier programs such as Green Corps – as
outlined by the Department of Employment Annex attached to the Department of
Environment Submission – there is no good reason why this Bill should continue
Continuing this practise of denying participants the status of trainees
suggests that for all the rhetoric about ‘having highest regard for Participant
safety, wellbeing and personal need and development’ along with providing
‘opportunities to undertake training recognised under the Australian
this program is not a genuine training program and will continue many of the
disempowering and exploitative practises of those earlier programs.
Given that many program participants are likely to be highly vulnerable,
with some having just left school, they should be afforded the strongest
possible workplace protections.
When a program participant is not considered an employee, the practical
effect is that:
Even where insurance is in place, it differs from workers
compensation cover in that an injured participant is likely to have to
demonstrate negligence by the provider. These disputes can take many years and
great expense to resolve, and young volunteers are highly unlikely to have the
resources to singlehandedly pursue such claims however meritorious they may be.
As such, compared to workers generally, a lower standard of protection is being
offered to Green Army participants, particularly given the physical and outdoor
nature of the tasks they are doing.
The Law Council expands on the consequence of denying Green Army Programme
participants adequate legal protections:
The Green Army Programme Guidelines do provide that Project
Sponsors and their subcontractors must comply with the provisions of all
relevant work health and safety laws, provide a safe working environment, and
develop project specific work health and safety plans...However there is a
significant difference between a contractual obligation to ensure safety (which
might, if breached, mean that a service provider has their contract terminated)
and the sanctions of criminal law that come with being bound by workplace
health and safety legislation.
The Australian Greens agree with the Law Council, that formal legal
protections, rather than contractual ones, are the appropriate way to ensure
that those who are engaged in the scheme are properly protected from injury at
work. Delegating this responsibility to the service provider clearly does not
provide adequate protection and the law society demonstrates the main
consequence of this as being that:
A contractual obligation to the Commonwealth to protect
workers from injury does not provide the workers themselves with any
compensation or redress if they are injured at work... The provision of insurance
cover will mitigate the risk to some extent, but it is not clear why voluntary
workers should be disadvantaged relative to other trainee employees in relation
to workplace health and safety and income protection.
The submission by the Law Council goes on to recognise that these
participants are also not covered by the Commonwealth Volunteers Protection Act
2003 (Cth) as participants will be receiving Commonwealth remuneration for
This means that the normal protections against workplace discrimination are
also weakened by this Bill.
Under previous schemes participants were covered by state and territory
employment laws, but this will no longer be the case. Since most states and
territories referred their industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth in
2010, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the National Employment Standards contained in
it have been the framework for a national workplace relations system which
includes all private sector employment, other than employment by
non-constitutional corporations in Western Australia.
Workers who are injured at work should be able to receive compensation
for that injury. Workers who are harassed, bullied or discriminated against
should be able to turn to the relevant Commonwealth Ombudsman. The structure of
this Bill does not offer these guarantees.
The Australian Greens will not support any ‘workforce’ program where the
workers are not legally workers and have no workplace rights.
That the failure to provide adequate legal protections be addressed in
The absence of administration funding
The Australian Greens recognise that providing ongoing training and
support, and designing and implementing programs that will lead to genuine
outcomes, requires administration funding for both the Sponsor and Service Provider
organisations. Yet, the project guidelines do not demonstrate that this funding
will be provided for.
A lack of administrative funding will prevent organisation from
delivering quality programs that have genuine environmental and social
That administrative funding be included in the program funding to
sponsor organisations, and where appropriate, service providers.
The failure to address work readiness
Even if the concerns about training, program design and workers legal
conditions can be resolved, the Australian Greens are unconvinced by the
statements made by the Department of Environment to this inquiry that this
program will lead to work-readiness or genuine environmental outcomes.
The Department of Environment submission asserts that this program will
ensure that job seekers will be more competitive in the labour market:
Green Army offers a structured programme of practical work
experience combined with accredited training —it is therefore likely to be an
attractive alternative to Job Services Australia for many young job seekers.
Should the job seeker return to Job Services Australia, they will have a new
qualification and recent practical project experience, allowing them to be more
competitive in the labour market.
Yet the Department has elsewhere acknowledged that the skills obtained
by the participants through the program are unlikely to lead to employment in
the environmental area. This is best demonstrated in the information provided
by the Department about the project guidelines.
The concerns of those organisations that participated in the
Department’s consultation process where acknowledged and summarised by the
Department as follows:
There is likely to be a lack of employment opportunities for
Participants, upon completion of their Green Army placement, due to the low
availability of jobs in the NRM industry. They may also need longer to acquire
the relevant skills and experience to be competitive in this industry. It was
also suggested that these qualifications can be obtained relatively easily
outside the programme and that Certificates I and II are not normally
competitive in seeking work (Cert III is often a minimum requirement).
And the direct response from the Department was not to address these
concerns but rather to acknowledge that:
The primary focus of the Programme is the delivery of
environmental and heritage conservation projects. The Programme is not a job
placement initiative. Training will be provided to assist Participants to
obtain a Certificate I or II qualification but will also provide nationally
endorsed skill sets to assist Participants’ readiness to move into study and
Participants are likely to have been attracted to the program, in part,
because they will not have to satisfy mutual obligations requirement to look
If accepted into the program, it is proposed that the job seeker would
generally be suspended from income support, and therefore their obligations
under social security law would no longer apply. Instead, the Green Army
Participant would move onto Green Army Allowance (which is commensurate with a
training allowance, and higher than Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance. In
addition, the job seeker would no longer be required to report to, or work
with, their Job Services Australia (JSA) provider, although may choose to do
The result of this is that job seekers are no longer actively looking
for permanent work or connected to their job service agency.
A training program should lead to clear employment prospects but given
that accredited training is not necessarily a part of the program, there is no
guarantee that participants will build their skill level to that required for
further employment. As discussed in the section on training, there is no
guarantee that this program will boosted their skills enough for them to be
considered job ready. See our comments and earlier recommendations on training.
Given this program does not guarantee an employment outcome, it should
at least ensure ongoing links with a job service provider who is obligated to
provide trainees with ongoing advice and support and quickly transition
participants into other training or employment opportunities at the end of the
program. While the program guidelines state that participants can volunteer to
remain in contact with their JSA, the policy settings are such that job service
providers are not incentivised to maintain these links.
That the interaction between participation in this program and access to
ongoing support from a job service agency be clarified and strengthened.
That there is a clear exit pathway from this program back to a job
service agency and access to stream 2 or higher levels of support that ensure
participants are quick transitioned to employment or study.
The failure to invest appropriately in environmental protection
Even if the recommendations above where implemented, the readiness to
move into study or employment is not particularly useful if there are neither
jobs nor transition pathways available to the program participants.
The reality is that this Government is putting more pressure on
environmental funding and is likely to reduce rather than increase the number
of employment opportunities available to young people in natural resource
management. The dismantling of the Biodiversity fund, which would have injected
millions of dollars of program funding into NRM is a prime example of this.
Previous programs that directed unskilled workers to undertake
environmental protection work have been largely unsuccessful in delivering significant
and lasting environmental outcomes.
For example, Murdoch University Professor of Sustainability Glenn
Albrecht is reported as having said:
If it’s really just weeding and tree planting, similar to the
sorts of things that were done under the Howard government’s programs, a lot of
that work, particularly in periods of savage drought, was simply undone because
there was no long-term follow up.
These programs could offset this by providing a genuine entry into
environmental management for young people, and provide a new generation of
skilled workers who can deliver the environmental services that Australia
desperately needs if we intend to undo the damage that has been done by poor
land management policies in the past.
In considering the role that the Green Army will play in the provision
of environmental services, The Australia Institute cautions that:
Special care needs to be taken to ensure that program
sponsors are not merely substituting activities they would normally undertake
with an ordinary workforce with Green Army Social Security Legislation
Amendment (Green Army Programme) Bill 2014 workers on cheap casual wages with
fewer on-costs. It should not be a program for providing and alternative cheap
workforce for rural and regional employers.
The Green Army Programme may increase the number of people working on
the landscape but, by its very nature, as a training program it cannot replace
the work of skilled environmental workers. Yet, if Landcare and Natural
Resource Management funding is cut further, there will not be enough funding to
continue the environmental strategies that this program is meant to supplement.
The Australian Greens are concerned that this program will be used in
exactly that way, to replace rather than expand our pool of environmental
workers and will further undermine the quality of Australia’s conservation
workforce by taking away well-paid, well-protected jobs and replacing them with
low-paid, unsafe jobs.
That this Government invest in environmental services and expand rather
than cut current programs such as Caring for Our County, Landcare and the
It is nothing short of exploitative to direct tens of thousands of
unskilled young people into short term projects which will not lead to
permanent employment simply to cover up the fact that this Government is not
prepared to take genuine action on environmental issues. This is particularly
disturbing given that this Government is also cutting back on both higher
education funding and the supports that are available to help young people
enter the workforce on a permanent basis.
That this Bill not be passed, until such time as participation in
environmental training programs is backed up by long term ongoing funding in
natural environment and heritage projects that would generate employment
pathways for those who complete appropriate training programs that have been
designed in partnership with the environment and job services sectors.
Senator Lee Rhiannon Senator
Australian Greens Australian
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