ABC Radio Southern Queensland Drive Show
With Craig Zonca
8 February 2011
E & OE
Subjects: AUSCORPS volunteering proposal
You’ve seen and heard about the amazing volunteer response around the state during the flood and cyclone clean up and recovery effort. Thousands packed the ute with shovels and mops and everything else they could think of to go from house to house. Others took cold drinks around. Those with a few muscles did the heavy lifting. The past six weeks has really highlighted the need for volunteers. And the Shadow Federal Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector Senator Mitch Fifield thinks we need to revisit the idea of AUSCORPS an army of volunteers, if you like. Senator, good afternoon to you. How would this work?
Good afternoon Craig. Well the idea is essentially that university students be offered a debt relief on their HECS debt of up to $2000 a year in return for the voluntary work that they do. So you price an hour’s work at $10, allow them to work up to 200 hours a year, and that would be the incentive for them to engage in a community organisation or a not-for-profit organisation.
So it’s really targeting younger people?
Absolutely. The great thing in Australia is that the voluntary spirit is alive and well. Australians always step up at times of national disaster, which we’ve seen in Victoria and Queensland and Western Australia and Tasmania over the last few weeks. But where voluntary organisations tend to struggle is week in, week out, year in, year out.
The number of volunteers is getting smaller, and those who do volunteer are getting older.
What kind of work would this volunteer army do?
It could be a range of activities. It could be coaching a junior footy team, serving as a scout leader, delivering meals on wheels or serving on the board of a not-for-profit organisation. Or it could be working for the SES or the CFA. The aim is really not to create a new federal volunteer bureaucracy, but to put people towards existing organisations to boost their numbers, to boost their manpower.
I mentioned in the intro that this idea has been around for some time in fact it was something that was mentioned at the 2020 Summit a few years ago, wasn’t it?
It was it came up in the 2020 Summit. I also raised it in my first speech to the Senate in 2004, several years before. But Kevin Rudd declared that this concept was the best idea out of the 2020 Summit. Sadly, he did nothing about it. And Julia Gillard has done nothing about it. We took it as a policy to the last election. But I think that given the Opposition supports it, and given Kevin Rudd thought it was the best idea to come from the 2020 Summit, there’s every reason that Julia Gillard should implement it.
Yeah and after seeing the great response we’ve had in Queensland – there’s a lot of people who are ready to help out and perhaps this would be a good way to tap into that. And what about for those who weren’t uni students or TAFE students and wanted to join up? Would there be a mechanism to allow that as well?
Well what we’re proposing is a pilot scheme for up to 1000 university students. It could also be extended to TAFE students. But the idea is to get young people and give them a flavour and a feel for volunteering in the hope that later in life they continue that activity. One of the reasons we’ve focused on university students is because we think that people who have a good education have a bit of an obligation to put something back into the community, and we want to provide a mechanism to facilitate that.
Harnessing that power that community power. Well, let’s hope that something like this can get off the ground, because seeing the response that we’ve had in Queensland just in the past six weeks we know there’s lots of people who would be willing to put their hands up. Senator, thanks so much for your time.
Thanks very much Craig.