Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP thanks and celebrates volunteers

13 February 2023


I thank the Member for Werriwa for bringing forward this very important motion and for giving us the opportunity in this place to thank and celebrate the incredible work done by volunteers across our nation. Volunteering is an incredibly powerful expression of who we are, what we value and what kind of world we wish to create for ourselves, our communities, our children and future generations.

Volunteering has always been an essential part of Australian society, but it has taken on even greater significance in recent years. From recession to climate disasters to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, volunteer workers and organisations have been at the forefront of our crisis response, and they will continue to lead our nation's recovery. Volunteers provide health, disability and emergency services. They run sporting activities and environmental conservation efforts and provide patronage to the arts. The list is so long. Many of them are the linchpins of local committees, associations, clubs and schools.

The latest ABS statistics show that one in five Australians volunteer. Though we are yet to see a return to pre-pandemic levels, this is a huge number of people, and the significance of their contribution to the economy really needs to be noted. Volunteering efforts contribute some $46 billion to the Australian economy. It's what makes our world and our wheels continue to go around. It's important to note that this data is not inclusive of the informal volunteering work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who give back to their respective communities as well.

It's time we thanked and acknowledged those who have selflessly dedicated their time, energy and expertise towards putting the needs of others in their community before their own. As Australians move back to their normal lives in the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdowns, the absence of volunteers and services that they make possible will become more and more apparent and concerning. Some organisations are struggling to recruit and maintain a volunteer workforce to fulfil their purpose, while some are struggling under the weight of exacerbated community demands. The decrease in volunteer numbers will diminish or eliminate activities and services that our communities rely on and will disproportionately impact society's most vulnerable. So I urge everyone to consider volunteering.

Going forward, we must continue to recognise the value of volunteering and ensure that it is adequately supported. We need the right infrastructure in place to support volunteer organisations, including better labour force planning, greater coordination of recovery responses, and additional training and guidance for volunteers and volunteer managers. We also need to ensure that we're doing all we can to make volunteering more accessible to those who want to get involved and make sure we have the right levers from a regulatory point of view.

I also urge the government to continue with their communities grants, for example, which are so important in supporting smaller organisations within our communities. Without those grants these organisations would not have gotten through the COVID period, and it is so important that those grants continue. We need to encourage greater technological adaptation among volunteer organisations which allows for more creative ways to recruit, provides more flexible ways to volunteer and facilitates a new generation's expectation of how they can contribute.

On a personal note, I'd like to thank all the organisations in Warringah who do such an amazing job, from our RFS to the SES to the communities from Meals on Wheels to OzHarvest—so many organisations doing amazing work in feeding and helping our communities. And of course I'd like to thank the Team Zali volunteers. We've seen a real engagement in politics over the last few years, where communities are really finding their voice. This is democracy at work, and it helps us do politics differently in this place. We need to engage with our communities and make sure their views and concerns are represented.

For me it simply wouldn't be possible to represent Warringah without the assistance of so many volunteers in my electorate office, and I have to say a very specific thankyou. I have volunteers on the team have been there consistently for four years now. Every day of the week, every day of the year, they are there all the time to support me. So, to all of those—they know who I'm talking about, my reception angels and so many more who are helping me—thank you so much. The community of Warringah really appreciates it and knows how important it is. Some are incredible experts in their fields, and this opportunity to give back is so important. So, I commend this motion and I thank the member—and thank you to all the volunteers.