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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25961

Senator FIFIELD (9:50 PM) —This evening I would like to highlight the work of a small but enthusiastic group of students in Melbourne. This group of students from Melbourne and Monash universities have joined together to form Ampersand—a non-profit organisation aimed at encouraging university students to do more volunteering and community work. Katia Sanderson, Sarah Cleghorn, Jennifer Brook, Denis Cairney, Sam Hardwick, Remy Kinna and Suzi Young are the students and recent graduates behind Ampersand, and they are to be commended for their energy and commitment.

Ampersand is motivated by two ideas. The first is that students are one of the more underrepresented demographics involved in regular volunteer work. The second is that, by getting involved in community work, students will become more focused on others and more active in their communities. Ampersand's strategy is to improve the awareness of students about community work and the ability of students to find suitable community work. The Ampersand web site will provide a hub for volunteering information for young people. This database of opportunities will be promoted by Ampersand at universities in Melbourne.

Ampersand will also aim to make volunteering more attractive to students. Part of this will involve promoting the idea that volunteer work complements paid work experience and ultimately produces more well-rounded employees. The name `Ampersand' was chosen to signify that there is a community life beyond study and beyond work—that you can work and make a community contribution. To help achieve its goals, Ampersand has linked up with Volunteering Australia, the national peak body working to advance volunteering in the community, which is supported financially by the Australian government.

Recently, two of the founding members of Ampersand, Katia Sanderson and Sarah Cleghorn, met with me to seek support in launching the organisation. It was encouraging to meet young people committing a significant amount of time and energy to their community. No-one could fail to be impressed by the zest and purpose of Katia and Sarah. Since completing year 12 in 1999 as school co-captain at Ruyton Girls School, Katia Sanderson has discovered how volunteer work can profoundly alter someone's life path. Katia tutored underprivileged students with the Ardoch Youth Foundation during her first two years of study at Melbourne University. Katia was so inspired by this experience that she deferred study to volunteer on a full-time basis. She spent six months at the Children First Rotary Farm in Kilmore in Victoria, helping Moira Kelly care for Third World children recovering from life-saving medical treatment. Katia then travelled to Albania, where she worked with the Sisters of Mother Teresa in orphanages and in food distribution programs. Now volunteering with Lighthouse and Anglicare's Friends Program, Katia has returned to a combined degree in arts and social work.

Katia's colleague Sarah Cleghorn, also a graduate of Melbourne University, embraced the challenges of motivating and supporting young debaters in her position as school debating captain in 1999. This experience led Sarah to adjudicate for the Debating Association of Victoria's schools competition. Both Sarah and Katia have a profound commitment to making accessible the experiences volunteer opportunities can offer.

In my first speech to the Senate, I proposed a measure to provide incentive and reward for young people to become more involved in their community—that is, to offer university students the opportunity to reduce their HECS debt in return for undertaking regular volunteer or community work. Katia heard my proposal on ABC radio's PNN while sitting in a broken down car, waiting for the RACV to come along. Katia and her colleagues were interested because they recognised that such a proposal would complement the work of Ampersand.

A compassionate society is one in which we can place ourselves in the shoes of others. It is a society where we understand that the different lives and circumstances of others are not always of their own making. The HECS mechanism can be utilised to foster greater community involvement by students; in doing so, we could support the work of groups like Ampersand. If today's students become more involved in volunteer and community work, there is a good chance they will stay involved in later life. The aspirations of students behind Ampersand are admirable. I hope Ampersand has a successful launch and helps engender a new spirit of community involvement among current and future university students.