Wednesday, 26 November 2014
The Sydney Morning Herald 21 November 2014:
A central pillar of the Abbott government's fledgling environmental plans - the $300-million Green Army - has been hobbled by a High Court ruling.
In June the High Court ruled that the Commonwealth did not have power under the Constitution to fund the school chaplaincy program through direct funding as proposed.
The case has meant the types of projects approved for the Green Army must now be of a national focus and "directed towards meeting Australia's relevant international obligations" or "conserving matters of national environmental significance".
The Coalition marketed the Green Army as delivering "local conservation outcomes" and first-round projects approved on guidelines set before court ruling had a strong local theme, including weed and pest control in Nillumbik, removing weeds in the Dandenongs, and revegetation and fencing in the Macedon Ranges.
The chaplaincy ruling may also mean some of the 196 Green Army projects approved under the first round of the scheme may not survive a High Court challenge.
The Green Army scheme was a key Coalition election promise at the 2010 and 2013 elections and involves young people aged between 17 and 24 paid an allowance to do up to 30 hours a week of environmental work.
About 2500 participants across 250 projects are expected in the first year, climbing to 1500 projects and 15,000 participants a year by 2018-19.
The scheme is to be funded directly by the Commonwealth government.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt described the first-round projects as "community-led projects that support practical, grassroots environment and conservation activities".
But new guidelines released this month for second-round Green Army projects include a new clause, stating that projects "must be directed towards meeting Australia's relevant international obligations or, alternatively, directed towards protecting and conserving matters of national environmental significance".
One project co-ordinator hoping to be involved in the Green Army scheme - who did not want to be identified - said their project would no longer meet the guidelines because it came under state heritage regulations and was not of national and international significance.
"The scheme has been gutted for community projects," they said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt declined to directly comment on the High Court decision……