THE HON TONY ABBOTT MHR, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DISABILITIES, CARERS & THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR
The Coalition will encourage the development of Australia’s next generation of community volunteers with a $7 million pilot volunteering programme to be known as AUSCORPS.
Under the pilot programme, up to 1,000 university students per year will be eligible to receive a $10 credit against their HECS debt for each hour of volunteer work they undertake, up to a maximum 200 hours or $2,000 per year.
This initiative will encourage more young people to take up volunteering in the hope that they will continue their commitment throughout their adult lives. It will also provide further support for not-for-profit organisations and reinforce the broader value of community service.
This idea was raised by Senator Mitch Fifield in his First Speech in 2004. It was also an idea raised at the 2020 Summit of 2008 and was picked out by Kevin Rudd as one of the top ideas but, like so many of the announcements under Labor, it went nowhere.
If the pilot programme is a success, the Coalition will look to expand it.
One of the great strengths of the Australian community is its volunteer spirit. Our communities would not be the same without it. The first response of Australians in time of need and hardship is to look to each other and their community.
The Coalition recognises that no government could ever replace the work undertaken by Australia’s dedicated community volunteers. It’s important for government to leave space for community and volunteer activities.
Coalition governments have a strong record of support for volunteers. The previous Coalition Government introduced the Volunteer Small Equipment Grants programme. When the Coalition left office, $62 million in funding had been provided to more than 29,000 organisations across Australia to assist them in their purchase of much-needed equipment.
This level of support was able to be delivered because the Coalition ran a strong economy, paid down debt and produced budget surpluses. In contrast the Labor Government has driven the budget into debt and deficit and are borrowing $100 million a day, every day.
A Coalition Government will stop government waste and pay down the debt, allowing us to deliver more support for services across the community.
In addition to the AUSCORPS Pilot programme, an elected Coalition Government will continue the Volunteer Grants Programme and will declare 2012 as the Year of Meals on Wheels with a $2 million grant to the Australian Meals on Wheels Association.
These practical and affordable initiatives will build on the Coalition’s strong record of support for Australia’s volunteers.
FACT SHEET AUSCORPS (Student Volunteer Credits) Pilot Scheme
To run a 3 year pilot programme in which up to 1,000 students per year can receive a $10 per hour credit up to a maximum $2,000 per year against their HECS liability in return for undertaking a maximum 5 hours per week and 200 hours per year of voluntary work. Move to full implementation after successful pilot.
To make volunteering more attractive and encourage the development of the next generation of Australia’s volunteers.
Those who have been given opportunity through education have a great responsibility to build and contribute to the community. The Coalition will encourage these students to join a new volunteer army to be known as AUSCORPS. The student volunteer credits are not designed to replicate wages or turn volunteering into a paid activity. Instead this initiative is about encouraging more young people to take up volunteering in the hope that they will continue their commitment throughout their adult lives. AUSCORPS will provide further support for not-for-profit organisations and will reinforce the broader value of community service as well as extending the principle of mutual obligation.
The idea was raised by Mitch Fifield in his maiden speech in 2004. It was also an idea at the “2020 Summit” of 2008 and was picked out by Kevin Rudd as one of the top ideas but, like so many good ideas under Labor, it went nowhere.
HOW IT WOULD WORK:
Eligibility Full-time domestic students in an undergraduate HECS place.
Registration Electronically via a website. First-come, first-served basis until all places are filled. Student has their place confirmed upon verification of their details with their university.
Eligible Voluntary Work Organisations and activities to be eligible would be finally determined after consultation with the not-for-profit and voluntary sector. However, political activism and advocacy would be excluded. The charitable activities of religious organisations would be eligible, but the conduct of religious ceremonies would not (e.g. serving as a cantor in a church service not eligible). Some of the activities that would be eligible would include coaching a junior footy team, serving as a scout leader, planting trees, meals on wheels, soup kitchens, serving on the board of a not-for-profit, SES work/training, CFA work/training. It is envisaged that the activity would be regular.
Minimum Commitment & Work Block Claiming To ensure participants make a substantial and serious commitment to volunteering, students will be required to complete a minimum of 50 hours of voluntary work in the course of a year to receive any credits. Further, to reduce administration, claiming for hours thereafter will be in blocks of 25 hours. So for example, a student who completes only 40 hours will receive no credits. A student who completes 130 hours will receive credit for 125 hours, as they have completed the 50 hour minimum plus 3 further blocks of 25 hours.
Claiming The student lodges a simple form with the ATO. ATO processes the HECS credit. Documentary evidence (e.g. a standard form filled out and signed by the relevant office-bearer of the voluntary organisation) to be submitted with the claim to verify the hours worked by the student. ATO to audit as part of their normal tax auditing processes.
Consultation and programme design to be completed and in place for a 1 January 2012 commencement date.
COST: $7 million over 4 years