As president of an environmental organisation, you would think I would be sad or outraged that the federal government’s Green Army program is destined for the scrap heap. Especially as my organisation received significant benefits from the program.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Green Army is an enormous waste of Australian taxpayer money. Environmental groups and local government organisations can do it much better. Here’s why.
How does Green Army actually work?
The idea is that organisations propose useful environmental projects to the Federal government. The department makes its choices. A group of workers are recruited, trained, supervised, carry out the tasks and are ready for environmental work employment at the end of their 10-week training program.
The reality has been quite different. Organisations seeking workers have had to provide their own equipment and own insurance. Employment agencies have been paid to find workers and ‘train’ them, mostly on the job, during the time of the work they are supposed to be doing. Workers have generally been young, without much work experience, requiring great supervision and training. Supervisors have had to be found and paid. Time travelling has been part of the total work time. Workers have only worked 3-4 days per week when allocated for a ‘week’ of work. Absences have been frequent, so groups of 8-10 have become 5-7. Groups in our programs – coordinated by our council to efficiently coordinate the many environmental volunteer groups in need – only worked on our patch for 1-2 weeks, meaning they never became experienced with our type of work and were always in learning mode.
The results have therefore been quite limited for the costs incurred. Allowing for the employment service organisation costs of recruitment (complex, difficult), their profit margins, the lack of total time actually spent on the job by recruits (4-6 hrs work x 3-4 days = 12-24 hrs per week for a 40 hour week), the low productivity due to being unskilled, untrained, not necessarily well supervised or motivated and it’s easy to see that the amount of work done for the costs incurred is quite low. Not only that, but our unpaid volunteers also had to spend our time supervising each group and their supervisors to ensure the right work was done!
From our perspective, we did get quite a lot of work done over the last couple of years that we couldn’t do ourselves, but it was frustrating to see that taxpayers and our local council were paying heavily for inefficient work, when skilled workers (paid and unpaid) are available, if properly funded. Councils will – privately – have similar views. Green Army projects took considerable time to organise and manage, as well as providing tools and insurance.
Overall, the Green Army program is a crock. A great waste of taxpayers’ money. We won’t be sorry to see it go, even though we gained some benefits from it.
How Volunteer Groups Can Do It Better
If the government gave the money budgeted for Green Army projects directly to volunteer groups, or even to local councils, we would have done 3-4 times as much work. How is this possible?
– We understand best what needs to be done without having to pander to fashionable central government ideas for funding
– We don’t have the overheads so we would be able to hire many more on-ground workers
– We would find skilled environmental organisations or use our own volunteer labour. These people are more skilled, more motivated, more efficient and need less supervision than Green Army so, even though paid professionals are more costly, they are much more effective. They get more done, get the right things done, make less mistakes
– Volunteer organisations manage money better. We are extremely frugal. We find ways to get things done that professional and paid organisations don’t or can’t.
– Governments would save a lot of their own administrative time by trusting experienced NFPs to do the job, reducing the bureaucratic rules but periodically auditing the work done.
Vale Green Army
So Green Army is dead. Give the money back to organisations like us and Landcare. Australia will get a lot more done. We’ll all be much better off.