Sad to see a Greg Hunt pet environment initiative, the Green Army, chucked in the compost and covered with potato peelings by the Turnbull Government, which is desperate to find lots of cash and thus good news for the looming Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
With a budget deficit heading heavenwards like a becalmed fishing boat at Mururoa Atoll, the hard money heads of the Coalition government weren’t going to get sentimental about the orange-bellied parrot, the hairy-nosed wombat and the Southern Brown Bandicoot. Ninety million dollars a year for slow-moving fauna and a parrot too stupid to avoid wind turbines cut no ice with them.
Mr Hunt (pictured right) wasn’t a great friend of the Bandicoot when the going got tough locally – and he has of course moved on from the environment, departing the portfolio after the recent federal election for the greener political fields of Industry, Innovation and Science.
This meant leaving behind his professed great lifelong passions of flora, fauna and the Great Barrier Reef as it went a whiter shade of pale, all bequeathed to Josh Frydenberg, who now bestrides Environment and Energy: a portfolio odd couple if ever there was one.
Mr Hunt’s website states he was shadow environment minister from 2007 to 2013 then minister between September 2013 and July 2016.
He counts his key achievements as “establishing Australia’s successful Emissions Reduction Fund, developing the Great Barrier Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and $1 billion Reef Fund, and establishing the Green Army”.
Early this year he won the gong as “Best Minister in the World” at the World Government Summit.
His new portfolio covers “areas that are deep personal interests of his and flow directly from his work on the environment”, according to his website.
The Hunt army legacy came under question in an article on Crikey that lamented the going-down of the Green Army. It described PM Malcolm Turnbull as having “all but uprooted [former PM Tony Abbott’s] beloved Green Army”.
The move, Crikey reported, “will likely be met with indifference from Australia’s Leadbeater possum and hairy-nosed wombat populations, as the preliminary findings in a recent analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation has found the environmental performance of [the] Green Army program is inconsistent and ineffective when it comes to protecting threatened species”. (Picture shows Mr Hunt with Green Army volunteers at Red Hill, ready for the fray.)
Crikey said the analysis “finds that many programs are not actually achieving benefits for threatened species”.
The army was launched in 2014, designed to help both the environment and young job seekers, as part of the “Direct Action” climate plan brought to the 2013 election by Mr Abbott.
The program had been problem-plagued, including reports of management problems, a high injury rate and a lot of drop-outs, Crikey stated.
An unpublished ACF report found that of the 323 Green Army projects the Department of Environment listed as benefiting threatened species in the first three rounds of projects funded, only 135 projects actually did.
Crikey said it was unclear how the Department of Environment measures a project’s effect on threatened species.
ACF chief Kelly O’Shanassy says group didn’t support the Green Army from its inception as the program never had a clear environmental strategy. “I think the only thing green about it was probably its name,” Crikey reported her as saying.
Of the program’s merits, minister Hunt had no doubt. His electorate of Flinders got one of the first army projects, covering the Mt Martha-Balcombe Creek Nature Trail habitat enhancement; the Southern Peninsula Foreshore and Creek rejuvenation; the Red Hill South Biolink and Community Reserve creation; and the Mornington Peninsula War on Weeds.
“This highly-effective program will offer our young people significant training and practical experience in the vital area of environmental management,” Mr Hunt’s web page enthused as the army took the field.
Good work was done, along the way helping “our local young people improve their environment while gaining vital employment experience”.
Now, alas, all gone because of the deteriorating Australian economic outlook. Greg Hunt can look back with some satisfaction at his role in the Green Army, but probably feels relief at getting back to civvie street and a new portfolio infatuation – the non-green fields of industry, innovation and science.
Greater things could lie ahead in Minister Hunt’s new landscape. No doubt he still carries a baton in his knapsack.