Disappointment as Volunteering Sidelined in the Budget
10 May 2017 at 11:58 am
The government has shown a “total disregard” for the contribution that volunteers make to the community, according to the sector peak body speaking in the wake of the 2017 federal budget.
Volunteering Australia said it was disappointed that this year’s federal budget had “completely overlooked” the sector.
Volunteering Australia CEO Adrienne Picone told Pro Bono News it should have been identified as an important part of the budget given there are 5.8 million Australians who engage in formal volunteering activities and programs, making an estimated annual economic and social contribution of $290 billion.
“We are really disappointed to see how few times volunteering has been mentioned in the budget,” Picone said.
“I think just from our take it seems to be mentioned about three times… Other than that there has been a total disregard, we believe for the vital contribution that volunteering makes to the economic and social good of Australia.”
Picone said it was particularly “concerning” in light of the many measures in the budget around employment.
“They haven’t actually acknowledged the role that volunteering plays as a potential pathway to employment,” she said.
“They have put forward a whole raft of new programs about shifting people from welfare into employment but not taking into consideration that through volunteering you can learn some new skills, you can put some things on your resume, build your networks, really get your foot in the door.
“We would love to work with the government to support these new programs but we have been sidelined really.”
Picone said the government needed to recognise that volunteering “doesn’t just happen by itself”.
“It actually does require investment and it requires planning and coordination and a strategy,” she said.
“Really we think if the government is serious about acknowledging the contribution of the volunteers in the workforce then we need to ensure that that workforce has an opportunity to grow and to flourish.
“We are calling for designated funding for volunteering support services because these are the services that actually help volunteering to happen. They help people to find a volunteer role, when they are ready to put up their hand, they make sure they have got something interesting and useful and meaningful to do and they help organisations to increase their volunteer workforce and value it and keep them safe and happy.”
Some highlights outlined in the budget relating to the volunteering sector include:
- From 1 January 2018, the Strong and Resilient Communities Activity will replace the current Strengthening Communities Activity.
- $10 million will be allocated to Volunteer Grants in 2017-18.
- The government will provide $84.1 million over five years from 2016-17 to consolidate seven working age payments and allowances into a new JobSeeker Payment. Under this measure, there will also be a strengthening of the participation requirement of job seekers. Part of this equitable participation framework, to apply from the 20 September 2018, will include aligning the participation requirements for recipients aged 30 to 49 with those for recipients under 30.
- Recipients aged 55 to 59 will only be able to meet half of their participation requirements through volunteering, while recipients aged between 60 and the Age Pension age will have a new activity requirement of 10 hours per fortnight that can be met through volunteering.
- Funding for Community Development Grants Fund, with to date, assured funding of more than $941.2 million to more than 750 projects including more than 450 projects from the 2016 federal election.
- A $19.6 million investment in community broadcasting in the 2017-18 period via the Community Broadcasting Program.
- A $29.6 million investment in 2017-18 that will allocate learning tools and resources, including assistance for community organisations located in metropolitan and regional areas to provide one-on-one tutoring and support to older Australians.
Picone said the funding paled in comparison to what was needed.
“While we acknowledge the distribution of volunteer grants that have been provided over the past few weeks, this funding pales in comparison to the sustained investment that is required to ensure safe, effective and sustainable volunteering,” she said.
“Volunteer managers and Volunteering Support Services provide the stable and secure volunteering infrastructure needed to support volunteers and volunteer programs on the ground every day.”
She called on Australians to sign a petition to retain designated funding for Volunteering Support Services.
“Volunteering Australia would like to reaffirm that the streamlining of funding, following the redesign of the Strong and Resilient Communities grants, poses a real risk to the critical role Volunteering Support Services play, as they will now have to compete for funding with those previously in other funding streams,” Picone said.
The petition will be presented to the Senate in June. To sign the petition and find out more see here.