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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30455

Mr RIPOLL (10:49 PM) —I would like to discuss this evening the social role of volunteers in Australia. The relevance of volunteers today can be considered by either the activities of community groups within an electorate such as Oxley or at a national level. The International Year of Volunteers is a formal recognition program that celebrates the essential role that many individuals selflessly undertake for others. Since being the member for Oxley, my electorate office has had contact with 277 community groups from within the area. Those groups provide an extraordinarily wide range of services to our community—from the Woogaroo Meals on Wheels group, which celebrated 20 years of service this year; to the Redbank Plains Junior Rugby League Club, which has representative teams for all junior age groups; to a group such as CODI, which provides daily transportation to and from the workplace for disabled people; and to Envirocare, which maintains awareness of local environmental issues.

Every single one of the 277 community groups in Oxley is reliant on the generosity and goodwill of volunteers. Whether it be through the provision of emergency relief packages or the setting up of an art class at the local neighbourhood house, volunteers are vital to the success and, often, existence of community activities. These community groups are often also reliant on government funding. This year alone, I have personally provided 80 letters of support for grant applications by community groups. The majority of those grant applications are not for exorbitant or unrealistic amounts of money. Many organisations consider a grant as a means of subsidising the running costs that many individuals incur during their service to the group. Most community groups also undertake fundraising activities to bolster their coffers. In fact, I note that many of us have given donations to the Phil Botha Memorial Fun Run here at Parliament House— another indication of a great group of men and women that we work with daily who are dedicating their personal time to help others.

No-one in this chamber will underestimate the value of a good raffle. Every single one of us also understands the time and effort required to pull off a good fundraiser. The people behind the scenes are crucial to the success of any of these functions, and the people behind the scenes are likely to be volunteers who are committed to the service their organisation provides to the community. They dedicate tireless hours to their cause. They undertake executive positions on committees, they prepare minutes and they make sure that tea and coffee are provided at meetings.

I have decided that the general understanding on the other side of the chamber of the value of a volunteer is different from that of my colleagues. I have decided that the Howard-Costello government has redefined the coalition's understanding of volunteer to `easy target mug'. Mug because we can get all these people to work for nothing, get them to replace the social services that the government has withdrawn from the community, and then undermine their hard work by using the inaugural Sir Henry Bolte lecture as a ruse to reminisce about the heady days of the Victorian Liberal Party in the 1960s.

This government also considers volunteers in Australia as easy targets. The volunteers are easy targets on which to place the onus for the failures of a socially out of touch government. Volunteers are easy targets when pitting one community group against others in the struggle for funding. It would now appear that volunteers are easy targets in being attributed the GST rorting in the Groom FEC. How dare the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation attempt on national television to remove the responsibility from the Liberal Party leadership for the GST scam or swindle or whatever you want to call it by blaming party volunteers. How dare the Minister for Small Business equate the cover up of a GST scam by Liberal Party branches as `no different from any other volunteer organisations'. I hope that every community group and organisation in the electorates of Warringah and North Sydney protest their representatives' redefinition of volunteer to `easy target mug'.

I commend the hard, honest hours of work that thousands of Australian volunteers donate every year to our nation. I protest the failure of the coalition government to recognise the value that these individuals add to our communities. In the International Year of Volunteers, it is shameful to note that the Liberal and National parties of the federal parliament of Australia have failed our volunteers. Perhaps we could see the government lead by example. Perhaps we could see the Treasurer, Peter Costello, volunteer one hour of his time to help small businesses cope with filling out their BAS or perhaps their tax returns. Or perhaps we could see Dr Kemp, education minister, volunteer one hour of his time to help school kids learn to read. Perhaps we could see the government, at the very least, get off its high horse and volunteer a small piece of self-respect and trust in all volunteers and give them back some of the dignity and some of the value that they deserve. I congratulate all the hardworking volunteers that give so much of themselves to the community and everyone else. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.