Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Statements by Senators


12:56 pm

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

Today I rise to highlight the work done by volunteers in Australia and to make a plea on their behalf. This afternoon I will have the honour of tabling a petition from Volunteering Australia with over 3,700 signatures. They are calling on the federal government to retain designated funding for volunteering support services in our nation. We on this side of the chamber acknowledge that we need to ensure that our community sector, which includes volunteering, is properly funded so that communities and families around the country can thrive.

I do not need to convince people in this place—or perhaps I do—about the extent to which volunteering plays a vital role in our country. Did you know that about 5.8 million Australians, or 31 per cent of the population, volunteer? This makes an estimated $290 billion contribution to our economic and social good. These volunteers support our communities in education, emergency services, sports and recreation, and social services, which in turn make our communities stronger. I have had the privilege of working with volunteer support services and meeting a diverse range of volunteers to listen to their concerns about what the Commonwealth is doing.

This level of effort around our nation—that is, 5.8 million people volunteering—does not happen by accident. Volunteers rely on volunteering support services to ensure that their organisations can continue to support the community. Volunteer management and support services provide vital support to volunteer organisations by recruiting and sourcing volunteers and helping to train and support their volunteers. These organisations support other organisations to make sure the volunteering experience is positive and safe.

The Department of Social Services are undertaking a redesign of many of their grant programs, including the Strengthening Communities activity. Currently, there is a direct stream of funding for volunteer support. The proposed redesign, however, rolls a range of programs together, and the current proposal removes the direct stream of funding for volunteer management, with no guarantee that these services will continue to be funded. They would need to compete with direct service providers for scarce funding. This is simply not good enough. It was confirmed in estimates in March that this is what the government was considering doing. Happily, in our most recent estimates it was confirmed that the government is reconsidering this terrible proposal.

It is critical that this government listens to Australia's volunteers, volunteer services and the many thousands of people who have signed the petition that I will table later today. Protecting a dedicated stream of funding is absolutely critical to our nation's volunteering effort—of those 5.8 million Aussies—an effort that supports our community fabric and our local environment. Everything from Meals on Wheels to mentoring and visiting our aged and infirm at home, environmental rehabilitation, local arts and history, animal welfare, local sports, youth activities—you name it, and more.

The effects of the redesign would be enormous on communities that rely on the volunteering support programs that this funding delivers. It would leave them without the capacity to support their volunteers and to connect new volunteers through to volunteering efforts that really want them.

I recently met with representatives of the Peel Volunteer Resource Centre in the electorate of Canning. It was clear to me the critical role that their volunteer support service plays. I heard from organisations at the meeting how they rely on the resource centre for the recruitment of volunteers and also for the management of their organisations—things like finding board members, filling out complicated paperwork, and helping with things like working-with-children checks. One of the volunteers I spoke to, Carol Carter, spoke of her experience as a coordinator from the K9 Rescue Group, which is serviced by the resource centre. Carrol and K9 Rescue Group relies on the Peel Volunteer Resource Centre to recruit volunteers to the organisation, which services some five pounds in their local region. They have worked with the local volunteering support service to find volunteers, healthy and enthusiastic committee members, and a treasurer, who helps the organisation with their administrative obligations. Carrol shared with me her real worry that if these changes go ahead and the Peel Volunteer Resource Centre is no longer funded, her organisation would have to spend more time recruiting volunteers and meeting administrative obligations, rather than caring for sick foster animals. That would be a national tragedy, with thousands more animal welfare tragedies around our nation if these kinds of services were to go.

This story, like many others, highlights the critical role of volunteering support services in promoting safe, effective and sustainable volunteering programs, and indeed the need to the federal government to retain support for these organisations—that is, through designated funding for volunteer support services.

The Canning Volunteer Gateway, by Volunteering Western Australia, shared other important stories with me. Elizabeth Borrello, who is coordinator of the Canning Volunteer Gateway, explained to me that people currently are directed to visit a website for information when they want to volunteer. However, she explained to me that for many people this is quite tough to navigate. Many prospective volunteers are not necessarily computer savvy, or they may lack confidence or language skills, and a face-to-face chat is what gets them over the line to start their volunteering journey. It can even help them overcome anxiety and to reconnect with their community, leading to things like future employment pathways.

If you speak to anyone in our nation who volunteers, they will tell you of the immense personal satisfaction that it brings them to be able to give back to the community. They enjoy the difference it makes to others, but most of all the difference they make to others brings great personal fulfilment to them. It has been wonderful to hear those stories from volunteers around the nation. Indeed, I will use this opportunity to encourage people to lend a hand in the local communities by volunteering.

With over 3,700 people having signed the petition, it is clear that there is support in the community for volunteering organisations. This reinforces that volunteering is a tower of strength in our community. I really want to give a shout-out to Volunteering Australia representatives who are in the chamber today. It is critical that we retain designated funding for volunteering in our nation, so let us keep in mind those volunteers in our states and territories working hard to do things like maintaining our local wetlands, keeping a local sporting club running, delivering meals on wheels to people in need, and so much more.

Today I commit to continuing to work with the volunteering sector to hold the current government to account on these important issues, because Australia absolutely needs its volunteers. We are so lucky that so many in our community are prepared to give freely of their time, expertise and labour to make our community and our nation a better place, but they cannot do it without support and professional help. It is really important that designated funding for volunteer support services be retained. It is time for the government to make sure that our nation's volunteers are supported and to heed the call to protect our volunteering support organisations.