National Volunteer Week

On behalf of The Greens I make a contribution to the motion of Hon. Greg Donnelly in acknowledgment of National Volunteer Week. I thank the Hon. Greg Donnelly for moving the motion. I place on record the appreciation of The Greens of the enormous contribution made by volunteers in the New South Wales community. Their passion and commitment for supporting their local communities must be recognised and celebrated. Volunteering is an essential part of strong and resilient communities. In my community volunteering in part fills the gaps left by insufficient government funding of services. In a sense volunteers become a safety net. In my inaugural speech last night I commented on how volunteers in rural and regional communities are the glue and that without their work many of the support services in our communities would fall apart. No doubt the Hon. Paul Green will agree with me that from a local government perspective the good work of our volunteers is relied upon.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge some of the great contributions made in my community by volunteers. It was fantastic to hear the Leader of the House acknowledge the young award winners who were present in the gallery today. I have some interesting statistics indicating how many Australians engage in volunteering each year: 5.4 million people. It is nice to see but I suppose not surprising—and I mean no disrespect—that the statistics show that slightly more women than men volunteer. We need to understand why that is happening, and by doing so perhaps more men will take up the challenge of volunteering. We should encourage equity in our contributions and involvement in resilient, vibrant and healthy communities. It is all about health and well-being, and that is what I want to talk about.

On average 1.1 hours a week are volunteered. Busy people say they cannot find the time to volunteer. The theme for this year’s National Volunteer Week is “Inspiring the Volunteer in You”. We must send the message that volunteering gives back to the individual. That is often forgotten. People think that they are too busy to volunteer. But by volunteering one hour a week and meeting wonderful people in their community they also enrich their own lives. As I have heard many times, people who go out into their community and help those in need get so much back. At times we think that life is tough, that we are too busy and we are struggling to cope. But when we know of others who are less fortunate or in greater need, it stops us thinking that way. That awareness is something that money cannot buy.

While I applaud the work of volunteers across New South Wales, I realise that we have to aim higher in terms of increased volunteer participation. In some areas in New South Wales less than 10 per cent of the population contributes voluntary work. I appeal to the Government to continue to review how volunteer work can be supported, encouraged and enhanced. Perhaps it could be done through further grants and assistance, particularly in the regions where transport support may assist people to engage in the community. We have to determine how we can make improvements and provide opportunities for greater participation. I am honoured as an elected representative to be invited to many events in my area and become better informed about my community. When I became mayor I was invited to meetings and events that I had no idea ever took place in my community. I have met with small groups who look after others in the community. They perform work that many of us do not know about, but if they stopped performing that work, we would notice.

Some groups help those less fortunate, for example people who live on the street. Since the global financial crisis, the number of people turning up at soup kitchens and seeking services from regional community centres in my area has increased by 60 per cent. We have to offer more support to those who need assistance and those who provide it. The Volunteering Australia website has information about how business and corporate entities can encourage and support their workers to volunteer during work time. I congratulate the business and corporations who support their employees to contribute in this way. It is a fine way to meet their corporate social responsibility benchmarks by allowing their staff to go out into the community and do good work. When those employees come across others less fortunate, they will have a greater appreciation of the opportunities they have in their lives. It is a valuable lesson.

Members have raised the important work of the State Emergency Service [SES], the Rural Fire Service and emergency rescue workers. I have often heard stories of accidents and emergencies in my area where these people attend all hours of the night and then turn up for work the next day. Sadly, sometimes they have attended accidents where the victims are people they know. It takes enormous strength and resilience to keep doing it and to keep giving back to the community. National Volunteer Week gives us an opportunity to recognise the work of our volunteers. Volunteering should be recognised every single day. We should keep it in focus and support it. The previous Labor Government implemented laudable programs and support for volunteers, such as, providing free national park passes to State Emergency Service volunteers. These small gestures, which do not cost a lot of money, are an acknowledgement of our appreciation and a way of giving back. I encourage the Government to think creatively about providing more support in this way.

We must reflect on current impediments that act as disincentives for people who are currently volunteering or contemplating giving their time to their community. I draw the attention of members to the New South Wales publication “State Electoral Districts Ranked by 2006 Census Characteristics”, which provides interesting data. It shows that country electorates rank high in volunteering. The fact that metropolitan areas are lower ranked deserves our attention. We have to make it easier or more attractive for people in the cities to volunteer in their communities. In many ways, it is easier for people in denser communities to volunteer. In my area a tremendous amount of people provide voluntary work. The average for volunteering in communities is 17.7 per cent of the population. My community is ranked right up at the top with 27 per cent of people engaged in volunteering. Volunteering covers a broad area; there is something for everyone. There is bush regeneration work, as I have done, or working at a soup kitchen or with the Girl Guides, the Rural Fire Service and the Christian Women’s Association [CWA]. I am very proud of the Christian Women’s Association membership in my area.

Mention has been made about cadetship programs. A few years ago organisations in country areas noted the lack of young people amongst their membership. Since then, they have made a concerted effort to attract young people. They have gone to schools to talk to students and encourage them to do volunteer work. In my area, Suffolk Park station was being vandalised. A crew went along to the local school, informed the young people about the importance of community work and encouraged them to become involved. Now a high percentage of young people are volunteering in the community.

The Rural Fire Service brigade leader in Suffolk Park, Greg Miller, won our Volunteer of the Year award last year. I note that our local group went to Queensland to help during the floods. I wish to make special mention of a wonderful friend, Noel McAviney from the State Emergency Service. Noel has volunteered also on committees of the council and is a fantastic person in our community. Both the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service encourage the participation of women as well as young people. Finally, I mention another member of my community who gives his time and energy endlessly, Paul Irwin, a member of the surf life saving organisation and sports association. These wonderful people deserve to be recognised and applauded. I thank the Hon. Greg Donnelly for moving this motion.