Senate debates

Thursday, 16 February 2017


Strengthening Communities Grants

12:09 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

  (i) pursuant to a decision of the 2016-17 Federal Budget, the Department of Social Services is currently undertaking a redesign of the Strengthening Communities Grants, to be known as the Strong and Resilient Communities Grants from 1 January 2018,

  (ii) the Strengthening Communities Grants currently provide around $18 million per year to projects which address disadvantage and build opportunity in communities around Australia,

  (iii) under the current Grants program, there is a specific funding stream for volunteer management programs, which in 2017 will fund volunteer support services in local communities to a total of around $7.4 million,

  (iv) the Department of Social Services has proposed that this volunteer management stream of grants funding will be abolished from 1 January 2018, meaning volunteer support services will be forced to compete with other worthwhile community services and removing any guarantee that they will be funded at all,

  (v) this is the latest reduction in funding allocated to volunteer management since the decision was made to transfer responsibility for volunteering from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to the Department of Social Services in 2014, a move which volunteering peak bodies and representatives opposed,

  (vi) the national peak body for volunteering, Volunteering Australia, states that this move will "rip the heart out of local volunteer support services", organisations which play an important role in Australian communities by leading, enabling and building capacity to recruit and retain volunteers in a wide variety of organisations and services, from the human services and the arts to environmental, animal welfare and sporting groups,

  (vii) approximately 5.8 million Australians, or 31 per cent of the population, volunteer, with Dr Lisel O'Dwyer of Flinders University estimating their annual contribution to Australia as $290 billion,

  (viii) volunteering plays an important role in delivering the priorities of the Government, with volunteers contributing many thousands of hours per year to the aged care workforce, the disability services, schools and hospitals, art galleries, libraries and sporting clubs, and with volunteering often acting as a driver in bolstering economic participation, mitigating isolation and loneliness and increasing social inclusion and participation,

  (ix) while volunteering is defined as "time willingly given, for the common good and without financial gain", it does not happen free, and requires the investment of resources in volunteer support services in order to maintain a professional, responsive and efficient volunteer workforce,

  (x) the withdrawal of funding to volunteer management services will threaten the viability of the thousands of volunteering organisations and will have a huge impact on the community; and

(b) calls on the Government to:

  (i) congratulate community-based volunteer support services for the work that they do to support strong, healthy and resilient Australian communities through an effective and professional volunteer workforce, and

  (ii) recognise the importance of funding volunteer management services and Volunteering Australia's campaign to retain funding for volunteer management as part of the Federal Budget.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Leave of one minute is granted.

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The government recognises the importance volunteering plays in delivering its priorities and values the work of volunteers who give their time without financial gain. There are no funding cuts to the grants program, with $18 million remaining available for community organisations to help build the enabling structures which are vital to well-functioning, cohesive and resilient communities. Volunteering is one of a number of community enablers that will continue to be supported. As well as this, and in recognition of the valuable contribution of Australia's six million volunteers, the government will continue to separately fund the $10 million volunteer grants program annually.

Question agreed to.