Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Volunteering in Tasmania
Tonight I would like to showcase the extent of volunteering in my home state of Tasmania and highlight the needs of the volunteering community across Australia. According to Volunteering Tasmania, my state has almost 4,720 not-for-profit organisations and most of these organisations use volunteers. There are 700,000 not-for-profit organisations nationally. In Tasmania there are—and I use this as an example—4,500 fire service volunteers alone, making up around 90 per cent of total number of fire service personnel. That does not include other emergency service volunteers, such as ambulance paramedics and SES personnel, who are mostly volunteers, particularly in the rural and regional parts of Tasmania.
I have previously in this place mentioned the powerful and selfless work these emergency workers undertake, often putting their lives on the line while their organisations rely on government grants and donations to survive or fundraising activity from supporters in their community. The Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, met some of these local heroes when he toured some of Tasmania’s bushfire ravaged east coast towns early last December. They were covered in sweat, almost black with soot, dirt and smoke, and were wearing the plastic overalls that must have made their lives a personal furnace every minute of the day. They would have been traumatised by what they saw, while worrying about their families and regular jobs and if their boss had the resources to keep their jobs open.
I am not just thinking of the fireys but also the hordes of volunteers handing out blankets and clothes to victims and keeping up meals to those on duty, and the hordes of volunteers that continually serve our community on a daily routine. And in my home state particularly, all this is taking place in remote or rural areas, where communications are sometimes difficult and the local economy lacks at times the critical mass and is rarely as robust as the urban economies of our cities.
The number of volunteers in Tasmania is estimated at more than 115,000. Nationally, the proportion of the adult population that is in the volunteer workforce is in fact 41 per cent. Tasmania has a very high incidence of and tremendous record in volunteerism. Volunteering in Australia has been valued by Professor Ironmonger at $42 billion. It is worth $42 billion to the Australian economy. Taking Tasmania on a population share basis, it is projected to be worth more than a billion dollars to the state economy each year. This contribution is significant in terms of the Tasmanian economy and the level of service delivery, given that the Tasmanian budget outlays total about $3 billion a year and the total federal payments to the state are worth approximately $2.5 billion. It shows that in the cities but more so in the country towns, villages and hamlets of Tasmania there is a silent army whose members are reaching out daily to help their fellow Tasmanians and saving the state almost $3 million a day in outlays. I would love to name them all. Suffice to say that the not-for-profit organisations that I think of at this moment range from the volunteer ambulance officers association, Meals on Wheels, surf lifesaving, fire service and emergency service volunteers to playgroup associations, Rotary, Apex, St John Ambulance, Probus, community committees, RSLs, Neighbourhood Watch, senior citizens, Red Cross, Little Athletics, the Anglican Women’s Guild, Landcare groups and health-care groups—and the list goes on and on.
Thank you, Senator; I appreciate that input and your contribution to this important matter. I want to thank Volunteering Tasmania for providing a full list of the not-for-profit organisations across Tasmania. I also want to acknowledge the hard work of Michael Ferguson, the federal member for Bass, and Mark Baker, the federal member for Braddon, both of whom have a close relationship with the many not-for-profit and volunteer organisations in their electorates. For example, only last week I was with Michael Ferguson at the Scout Association’s celebration in Launceston of the birthday of its founder, Baden-Powell.
I also want to acknowledge that one of the highlights of the year 2006 for me was hosting thankyou Christmas drinks for representatives of the volunteer organisations in the Launceston region. Michael Ferguson was present on that occasion to say thank you, together with Volunteering Tasmania representatives. In fact, at the end of this week Diabetes Australia (Tasmania), together with me as I am helping to co-organise it, is holding the Tasmanian Pollie Pedal, on 2, 3 and 4 March. Politicians of all sizes, colours and persuasions will be on pushbikes raising money for a good cause, diabetes. We will have a host of volunteers supporting the Pollie Pedal. We hope to raise more than we did last year, which was $46,000, for that cause. Again we have the work of volunteers being instrumental to an event’s success. Volunteers come from every corner of our community. Their efforts and deeds comprise our social and moral spinal cord. Without them society as we know it would actually collapse.
Costs of volunteering was the title of a report that was released earlier this year. It said that the average out-of-pocket cost was $600 per annum for each of Australia’s 6.3 million adult volunteers. The report found that 88 per cent had out-of-pocket expenses that were not reimbursed, while 10 per cent—or an estimated 600,000 volunteers—had dropped out or reduced their hours because of the high cost of volunteering in the past year. In my view, volunteers in Australia today are undervalued and underrecognised. All levels of government and our community can do more to help.
I thank my government—specifically the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough—for considering the Volunteering Australia task force report, which was released in Melbourne on Monday, 22 January this year, on how to assist with some of these costs. I joined Volunteering Australia CEO, Sha Cordingly, and Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, who was the chairman of that task force, in the release of that report. The six options in the report are divided into two categories: reimbursement to the volunteer direct or through their organisation. As I have just indicated, the eight-member expert task force was chaired by Professor McGregor-Lowndes, who said that individual claims should be capped at $300 per anum and that criteria should be set for organisational eligibility. I want to thank the professor and his task force for the tremendous amount of work that they put into that report. Indeed, I reiterate my thanks and support for Minister Mal Brough for considering that report.
I want to pay tribute to Sha Cordingly and her deputy, Kylie Bates, for their cooperation with my submission. I again thank them for their tremendous work. Since becoming a senator I have assisted Volunteering Australia to put a series of proposals to the government to consider, including increased funding for equipment grants and other grants for volunteers and tax breaks. This is against a background where to date the government has provided more than $29 million to 14,000 community organisations around Australia. These small equipment grants are proving invaluable to the many volunteer organisations throughout Tasmania and our country. They are most appreciated. Other measures include more incentives for corporate volunteering to allow and encourage more employee volunteering programs during work time, support for the upgrading and maintenance of a volunteers register and a specific volunteer medal in the Order of Australia awards. These are outlined in my submission on this matter that is set out on my website.
I do not mind drawing an analogy between our volunteers and the Anzac spirit that persisted at Gallipoli and similar places in the world. Volunteering is no doubt a less dramatic demonstration of the Aussie spirit, but on the home front it is no less worthy. Volunteerism is an important indicator of our social, moral and spiritual health and wellbeing as a nation. I do not think that we as a community fully appreciate just how valuable our volunteers are to a vibrant and buoyant Australian society and economy. I assure you we would know it if volunteering collapsed and the community were faced with making up the difference. Put it another way: if we were to suddenly lose our volunteers the federal, state and local budgets would be in crisis. That is the best illustration I can provide by which to measure and demonstrate their value to society. I salute them tonight, not only in my home state but across Australia and throughout the world.