Joint Media Release: Hon. Bill Shorten, Hon. Mark Butler, Liberal Party Must Stop Scaring Australia's Volunteers

18 January 2012

Volunteering is a vital part of Australian society and the Gillard Government passionately supports volunteers and volunteering organisations.

Since coming to office in 2007 we have:

  • Provided $11 million in temporary grants assistance to help Not-For-Profits through the Global Financial Crisis

  • Agreed the National Compact

  • Created a new general category of Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs) to support volunteer based emergency services (including volunteer fire brigades)

  • Established the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission (effective July 1, 2012)

  • Released the National Volunteering Strategy

  • Established the Not For Profit Reform Council

  • Provided more than 24,700 Volunteer Grants to not-for-profit organisations

“Volunteering is at the heart of our communities, our schools, our sporting and social clubs, our welfare, environment and arts groups,” Minster for Social
Inclusion Mark Butler said.

“Over 6 million Australians volunteer mostly for sporting and not-for-profit groups.  The number of volunteers has doubled over the last 15 years, something we should all be proud of and encourage.”

“The Federal Liberal Party’s cynical political attempts, via their spokesperson for the voluntary sector, to claim “the Australian tradition of volunteering is over” is nothing less than an insult to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who get busy for our community every day,” he said.

“Surely it is just as important for volunteers to have safe workplaces as it is for employees – no one should go home injured, whether they are employed or a volunteer,” said Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten.

“But the Government is mindful of the fact that we don’t want to place unnecessary administrative burdens on volunteering organisations.”

“The Gillard Government’s new national OHS laws codify existing common law to ensure volunteers undertake their activities in safety – and will not depart from current practice for volunteer organisations.  The fact is nearly all volunteer organisations already have good OHS practices in place and won’t face any additional burdens whatsoever.”

The laws do not apply to ‘volunteer associations’ which do not employ anyone to carry out work for the association.  The activities of such volunteer associations and their volunteers are automatically exempted from the new laws.

Volunteering Australia, the peak body for volunteers and the organisations that employ them, have endorsed the new laws.

“As recently as today they have reaffirmed to me that as a general principle Volunteering Australia supports the new laws and the increased protection it offers volunteers,” Mr Shorten said.

Volunteering Australia advised they are continuing constructive discussions with Safe Work Australia to ensure that complex legislation is explained simply to organisations and Not-For-Profits.

“I will be meeting with Volunteering Australia and a range of charitable and Not-For-Profit organisations later this week to further discuss the way forward”, he said.

Initial discussions clearly indicate that these groups support the Government’s commitment to volunteer safety and are more than willing to work with the government to address any issues not-for-profits may experience in ensuring safe volunteering.

“Those in the Coalition that would seek to bounce off a misguided newspaper article and score political points by misrepresenting the issue should simply pull their heads in and consider carefully who they are putting in the crossfire here,” Mr Shorten said.

“Hypothetical scaremongering is just that.  These new laws are not heavy handed and the maximum penalties in the regime are for extreme workplace negligence, not the everyday activities of volunteers.”

“If you give communion in a church, bake cakes for a charity, help out Meals on Wheels, look out for swimmers at the beach or clean up in your community after a storm – you are not going to face jail or fines.  You should safely and sensibly get on with your efforts and be congratulated for it.”

“Volunteering for your community is terrific.  Voluntarily misleading your community about efforts to ensure people are safe is totally unacceptable,” he said.