Missed Budget opportunity to invest in volunteering during emergencies
Volunteering is central to Australia’s economic and social resilience. As the ongoing flood crisis in New South Wales and Queensland highlights, the contribution of volunteers is essential to emergency response and recovery. Yet, the 2022-23 Federal Budget overlooks investment that would enable volunteering during emergencies and in their aftermath. Without explicit recognition of and greater strategic planning for volunteering, the resourcing announced in the Budget will be insufficient to achieve its aims.
Volunteering plays a vital role in crisis response and recovery. Volunteers and volunteer involving organisations have played a crucial role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to skills and employment, supporting mental health, improving the lives of people with disability, and providing quality care to older Australians. However, volunteering has not been strategically considered in response to recent crises, including in the development of coordinated, national natural disaster arrangements and throughout the Australian Government’s response to COVID-19.
“Despite their importance to emergency management in Australia, volunteers are overlooked in planning and resourcing for the sector. This is part of a broader issue surrounding the omission of volunteering in workforce planning. It is also still unclear whether the announced skills and employment package will include measures for the volunteer workforce.”Volunteering Australia CEO, Mark Pearce
The Budget outlines some funding which will help support the volunteering ecosystem. Volunteering Australia welcomes the allocation of $52.3 million over 4 years for Lifeline Australia to provide mental health supports as part of the implementation of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. We also welcome funding to improve the availability of mental health services and treatment to people impacted by natural disasters and other emergency response events, including $4.0 million to the Black Dog Institute to establish a new National Mental Health Service for Emergency Service Workers and Volunteers.
In last year’s Budget, Volunteering Australia was allocated funds to design a new National Strategy for Volunteering in partnership with the volunteering ecosystem. In future Budgets, funds must be allocated to enable its implementation.
“Preserving the vital contributions of volunteering to Australia’s community resilience increasingly depends on a strategic, whole-of-ecosystem approach to resourcing and planning. Targeted, coordinated, and sustained investment in the volunteering ecosystem is needed as a matter of urgency,” said Mark Pearce.Volunteering Australia CEO, Mark Pearce
Volunteering Australia has been advocating for further investment in volunteering to be included in the upcoming 2022-23 Australian Government Budget. Governments have a distinct and vital role in providing strategic leadership and investing in initiatives and infrastructure that will enable volunteering to thrive.
The 2022-23 Federal Budget should invest in:
1. A Volunteering COVID-19 Recovery Plan. This plan would enable volunteers to re-engage safely, support the adaptation of volunteering programs, and facilitate the recruitment of new volunteers to ensure services and programs can recover.
2. A Volunteering Futures Program. This program would facilitate the future adaptation of volunteering and support the strategic priorities identified in the new National Strategy for Volunteering currently under development.
3. A National Youth Volunteering Initiative. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19. This initiative could mitigate against poor mental health outcomes for unemployed young people and support pathways to paid employment.
4. A nationally co-ordinated approach to volunteer engagement in emergencies. As the frequency and scale of emergencies in Australia increases, a nationally co-ordinated approach will help to mobilise volunteers rapidly, safely, and effectively.
5. Investment in the Aged Care volunteer workforce. Funding should be allocated for the Aged Care Royal Commission’s volunteering recommendations in Budget 2022-23 and into the forward estimates.