House debates

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Constituency Statements

Australian Volunteers Overseas

10:22 am

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Every year many hundreds of Australians head overseas to volunteer in developing countries. In my role as parliamentary secretary I meet many of these people throughout the Pacific and see the benefits of the wonderful work that they do. These are men and women who take time out of their own lives, away from their jobs and their families, to share their skills and expertise to help improve the lives of others. Today I would like to pay tribute to the work of volunteers from Geelong. My office has recently been given the opportunity to extend a thank you on behalf of the Australian government to 15 local people who have returned from volunteering missions to Asia and the Pacific during the last 12 months or so. The work they did is extraordinarily varied and says a lot about the huge range of skills needed by many of our nearest neighbours but it also says a lot about how we, as Australians, are prepared to pitch in and help wherever it is needed.

For example, Peter Hudson is known to many people in Geelong as the former executive director of United Way and also formerly of the Lord Mayor's Foundation in Melbourne. Retired now, Peter has years of experience in fundraising and business management and his task as a volunteer with Australian Business Volunteers during two months in Cambodia was to help a team at the Bright Hope Institute improve their own fundraising and management skills and secure the future growth of the institute. In doing this he was assuring the educational future of the 400 students from remote and rural areas of Cambodia who attend the institute in any year, gaining valuable skills in agriculture and business management.

Geoffrey Moss from Geelong spent six weeks in East Timor training biomedical technicians how to fix medical equipment in the country's hospitals. X-ray machines, suction pumps, heart monitors, blood monitors and incubators used to save the lives of newborn babies were all fixed by Mr Moss and his trainee team. The equipment itself had been donated by countries around the world, but it is no good to anyone if it is not functioning properly.

A retired bookshop administrator, Margaret Tembo spent a month in Tonga last year lending her expertise to the Friendly Islands Bookshop. It is the only bookshop in the capital, Nuku'Alofa, and employs 20 people across its main street retail outlet, book warehouse and small shops on outlying islands. As part of the Uniting Church's international mission, Margaret played an important role as a fresh pair of eyes and ears during the bookshop's critical rebuilding phase. The shop and all its stock was destroyed by fire during the 2006 riots and its staff have been working to restore the business since then.

Volunteering comes in many shapes and sizes, but the constant in all these stories is the desire to give of oneself, to make a difference and to do some good. Perhaps Margaret Tembo summed it up best when she said, 'We are a caring community in Geelong and it is something to be proud of that we are prepared to look outwards and help others whose lives are much more difficult than ours.' As you can see, there is no single set of skills needed by volunteers except perhaps for an open heart. I would like to acknowledge Zach Power in the audience, who is on work experience with me from Geelong High School and will be preparing my next constituency statement.