Taking a Look at Australia’s Green Army

Taylor Adams writes about Australia's "green service" and makes the case for a similar initiative in the UK.

How many people have heard of the Australian Green Army? Perhaps not as many as should have. Although it did end up being cut from the budget, it bears looking at again. It could help provide the framework for a solution to two pressing problems in the UK and worldwide.

The Green Army, a pet project of former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, was an initiative guided by community needs designed to help preserve the local environment in line with Australia’s environmental priorities. It was designed to do this while also mobilising young people and providing them with employable skills. The program was based on projects proposed by communities and involved small teams of people working on solving the problems the projects defined, and then implementing these solutions.

The projects involved various activities, from weed control and tree planting to habitat and heritage protection. There were approximately 5000 participants over the three years it ran. These participants removed 19,000 tons of debris, planted 826,000 plants, held 1800 community events, and completed twenty-one heritage conservation projects.

Unfortunately, the program was not without faults and after having been introduced in 2014, it was cancelled in late 2016 due to budget re-allocation. The leading detractors felt that the funding, which came from the Department of Environment and Energy, could have been used more efficiently for environmental protection. Many felt the program was designed more from the vantage of solving unemployment rather than protecting the environment.

Often it takes multiple iterations of an idea or program to optimise it. If the UK took up something similar and learned from Australia’s mistakes, there is no reason it couldn’t succeed. Taking the above criticism as a starting point for improvements, A UK program that is clearly defined from the beginning could help solve two critical problems in the UK: climate change and unemployment.

Looking at the UK, there is lots of work needed to reduce our impacts on the climate and prepare the country for warmer and more volatile weather. As climate change is an overarching problem that affects all aspects of life, finding a government-led solution often means developing a cross-cutting program and using the Green Army as a prototype would fit this bill. It just needs to be marketed as cross-departmental from the start.

Bringing the departments responsible for the environment and employment together could be just the beginning. A workforce made up of young and eager people could have far-reaching benefits, and potential projects could impact other areas as well, from housing and local communities to food and rural affairs. The key to success for such a program would be to define early what the goals are and ensure that no single department has too great an influence on the outcomes.

With an open mind, projects for this program could range from upgrading homes to more energy-efficient standards to simple beach cleanups. There would also be a range of employable skills training available to participants across the country with the range of projects offered. This upskilling would mean employment gains are not just transitory but more permanent as participants would leave the program upskilled and more employable.

One specific example for the UK could be to create a “National Renovation Army” that supplies the needed labour to update homes while also providing necessary training to the young people that make up the workforce. People across the country could apply for energy efficiency renovations to their homes, and the program could undertake the projects based on a rating system of need. With the program funded by the government, this program could be made affordable and accessible to all homeowners, not just the wealthy. Although this is one specific example, it should now be obvious there are many applications for a young, eager, and focused workforce.

The key to success would be to define the goals of the program at the outset. It would have to be clearly labelled as an environmental protection program and an employment program, with potentially many other departments seeing benefits and getting involved.

Australia’s Green Army program was an excellent and innovative first try, and though it failed, if the UK could learn from those failures, there is no reason a similar program couldn’t be a success.


Taylor Adams is an Associate Director at an International Bank who also serves as the St Katharine’s and Wapping Branch Labour Membership Secretary.

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