Malcolm Turnbull has further opened a rift with his predecessor amid reports the Abbott-era Green Army program will be abolished.
The program, which was due to cost the federal budget $360 million over four years, was initially set up by Tony Abbott when he was prime minister to recruit unemployed people for projects to restore the landscape and protect threatened species.
By the middle of this year there were 801 projects underway or complete across Australia, with 5736 people involved, 16 per cent of whom were indigenous.
But despite its success, it is expected to be abolished in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook to be delivered on December 19.
The prime minister declined to confirm the media report when asked on Monday, but spoke in favour of the Landcare program which is to receive a $100 million boost under a deal with the Greens to pass the backpacker tax.
“I would simply say we have a strong commitment to environmental programs,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Melbourne.
“Landcare is a very good program. It is very much admired and very effective. It is a very effective use of funds. It has enormous community support.”
Mr Abbott wrote on Facebook he was dismayed about report’s of the program’s abolition.
“Not only has it been good for grass roots conservation but it got unemployed people working too,” he wrote.
“It’s bad principle to axe your own policy for the Greens’ policy because it means that their priorities are more important than ours. That would hardly be a smart move for a centre right government.”
Mr Abbott and his supporters have frequently voiced concerns that the former prime minister’s legacy is being trampled on by Mr Turnbull and his skills are not being used by the government.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said any changes to funding needed to be looked at in the context of the “overall budget situation”.
“We have to find savings across the board,” he told ABC radio.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said it showed the “policy chaos” at the heart of the government’s approach to the environment.
“Tony Abbott likes the idea, so Mr Turnbull trashes the idea and in the meantime we’ve got no clear policy on the environment or jobs,” Mr Shorten said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who doesn’t believe the Green Army is an environmental program, welcomed the death of “another dud Abbott-era policy”.
He said a number of reviews of the program showed it was not an effective way of getting unemployed people into work but had become a “punitive program for people down on their luck”.