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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 8408


Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (9:46 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia has a great tradition of volunteering with many people helping others and contributing to their community.

In 2000, the ABS Voluntary Work Survey showed that almost one-third of adult Australians had performed some voluntary work in the previous 12 months. Each year, Australians give over 700 million hours of their time to volunteer activity.

Volunteers undertake a wide variety of work—from organising sporting events to fighting bushfires to guiding visitors through botanical gardens.

However, the threat of legal liability for actions performed in good faith may discourage people from offering their services in a voluntary capacity. This possibility is increased in the face of rising public liability insurance premiums and reduced availability of cover.

At the ministerial meeting on public liability on 30 May this year, the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers agreed that a number of jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, would introduce legislation to protect volunteers from being sued for negligence. Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia have already introduced legislation to protect volunteers doing work for community organisations.

While there may not be a significant volume of claims against volunteers, this does not necessarily mean that volunteers feel at ease about their potential liability. The Commonwealth Volunteers Protection Bill 2002 is intended to provide comfort to people performing voluntary work for the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth authority. As a result of this bill, these volunteers will not be personally liable to pay compensation to third parties to which they may, acting in good faith, have caused personal injury, property damage or financial loss.

The Commonwealth Volunteers Protection Bill 2002 will protect people who perform voluntary work for the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth authority from civil liability for acts or omissions of the volunteer done in good faith when performing that work.

The Commonwealth or Commonwealth authority incurs the civil liability that, except for this bill, the volunteer would incur.

The bill does not extend protection to volunteers who are doing community work for non-Commonwealth community organisations or for organisations funded by the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth authority where the body itself directly organises and supervises the work of volunteers.

In many cases, these volunteers will be protected by legislation being passed by state parliaments.

The Commonwealth Volunteers Protection Bill will act to protect people who are performing voluntary work for Commonwealth departments and agencies as well as organisations such as the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and airport fire services on Christmas Island.

The Australian War Memorial has nearly 300 volunteers actively contributing to its mission of remembering, commemorating and interpreting the Australian sacrifice in war. Volunteers perform a wide variety of jobs at the War Memorial, from conducting guided tours to assisting conservators prepare relics for storage and display.

At the Entomology Department of CSIRO, over 20 volunteers assist in the maintenance of the Australian National Insect Collection. These people help to maintain collections of moths, butterflies, beetles, ants and bees.

The contribution made by volunteers is greatly appreciated and valued by the government. This bill will give volunteers certainty about their potential liability and encourage people to continue these activities, which not only provide an economic benefit but help to build community networks and encourage social cohesion. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cox) adjourned.