Going Green Is Just Another Rinse In Government Washer

There’s no better way to dress up your drab, colourless economic plan than calling it ”green”.

The Victorian Government has been trying to create a ”green economy” where business innovation is guided in a greenish direction by the gentle hand of subsidies, taxes and government purchasing decisions.

Last year’s Green Car Innovation Fund gave a nice, fresh, enviro-trendy spin to the traditional Australian pastime of taking money from successful, productive industries and giving it to car companies. For a short time, we all seemed convinced that dumping money in the deep black hole that is the Australian automotive sector was the best thing we could do for the environment.

Ten years ago, it wasn’t green jobs but technology start-ups that were going to be the future of our economy.

Remember the great tech hub in the Docklands that was supposed to make Melbourne the Silicon Valley of the southern hemisphere? The Victorian and federal governments spent millions on ”ComTechPort”, a network of buildings to host innovative tech start-ups. But the jewels in ComTechPort’s crown now have as their tenants such innovative, nimble start-ups as the Australia Customs Service, the Bureau of Meteorology, VicTrack and the Telstra Corporation.

Unfortunately, it looks as if we’re seeing that same cycle of wishful thinking and half-baked policymaking when governments talk about all the new cool green stuff they’re doing.

The Federal Government’s recent announcement of 50,000 new green jobs hit a quick snag when Participation Minister Mark Arbib, and then Kevin Rudd himself, admitted they weren’t ”new”, they weren’t really ”jobs” (most of them were more like work experience and training positions) and there probably wasn’t going to be 50,000 of them.

But they are still green. We will be getting a new Green Jobs Corps, educating, oh, a dozen-thousand or so unemployed youth in the finer points of tree planting and walking track construction. We’ll get a few more thousand ”local green jobs”, which also involve tree planting. And we’ll get 30,000 green apprentices. That last program will involve, among other things, ”training mechanics in green car engines”. There have been only about 10,000 hybrid cars sold in Australia. If all goes to plan, they’ll be very well maintained.

Government-created green jobs don’t tend to make a lot of economic sense. We might have great ambitions for a green, sustainable economy, but other countries have tried it already. In Spain, a recent study has found that each of the green jobs created in that country has cost nearly $1 million, and each job cannibalises more than two jobs from another sector.

Of course, some things are more important than money or the economy. But governments can’t simultaneously claim their green jobs schemes will drag us out of the economic doldrums, and argue green jobs are too important to dismiss with crude, heartless, economic analysis.

Nevertheless, a lot of people seem to view the financial crisis as a time to pursue other goals – we mustn’t just have one of those standard, boring economic recoveries, we have to have an exciting, innovative and forward-looking green economic recovery! But Australia’s unemployed would no doubt be a lot happier to get back into work as soon as possible, rather than waiting to be funnelled into a hypothetical green job according to the Government’s policy priorities.

Green is fashionable, sure. Consumers are demanding more environmentally aware products, and businesses are supplying that demand. Indeed, right now the private sector is doing a hell of a lot better than the Government when it comes to innovative green products and services.

But governments that slavishly follow fashions might just find themselves with a wardrobe full of old, worthless policies that don’t fit and cost the taxpayer way too much.