30 November 2021
As we get closer to another Christmas, this Sunday 5 December is International Volunteer Day. Volunteers have always played a very important role in shaping our great nation, but their essential role in our communities has been particularly highlighted over the last two years. Through the terrible bushfires that ravaged our nation in the 2019-20 summer, we were reminded that the bravery of volunteer firefighters is often all that stands between disaster and our homes, or even our lives. In my home state of Victoria, the CFA is a fantastic example of the pivotal role that volunteers play in the Australian story. It’s those CFA volunteers who fight the fires and perform those essential road checks, rescues and emergency medical responses. They are simple volunteers, just making a contribution—something that they want to give back to the community as well as running community education and engagement activities.
These CFA brigades are often the backbone of many regional communities throughout Victoria—and right around Australia, not as CFA but under the name of other organisations. So people are very proud to be members of their local brigade, knowing that they are standing side-by-side with their neighbours and friends, ready to defend their families, friends and communities. This is just one example of how volunteer organisations bind communities together and provide a sense of purpose and dignity to those who are involved.
Throughout the COVID pandemic we have seen how volunteers gave their time and energy to get us through even the toughest of times. Whether it was by delivering food to families in lockdown or running free online classes to keep people engaged, volunteers continued to do all they could for those who needed assistance, even as they adapted to restrictions and lockdowns. Unfortunately, the pandemic had a detrimental impact on the ability of Australians to volunteer. Research highlighted by Volunteering Australia showed that an estimated 2.3 million fewer Australians volunteered in the 12 months prior to April 2021 compared to late 2019.
Tonight, I acknowledge the hard work of Mark Pearce, the CEO of Volunteering Australia, and his team, who have been working hard to provide volunteer organisations with the information and resources that they need to persevere as best as they can through the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Volunteering Australia launched a national strategy for volunteering. This strategy is all about re-imagining the future of volunteering in Australia and ensuring that volunteer organisations can recover from the pandemic and continue their essential role in our community. We should recognise that flame of volunteers and volunteerism, making sure that it still burns bright in communities right around Australia. If you go to Foodbank Victoria’s website to volunteer, you’ll find a notice—and I checked just before I came to give this speech—that says they have been overwhelmed by kind offers to volunteer and cannot accept anyone new.
As International Volunteer Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day approach, I recognise and pay tribute to all the volunteers right around Australia as well as those Australians doing important volunteer work overseas. You play an essential role in our communities and I give my thanks for all the work that you do.