Opinion | The Gauge
For a lot of Australians, the recent holiday period could hardly be described as a happy time. Fires swept across an estimated 10 million hectares of bush, forest, parks and farmland - only to be followed with severe storms and flooding. And this is on top of the drought that continues to grip vast swathes of the nation.
And although there has been a lot of talk about the causes of these devastating events and what can be done to address this, there hasn't been anywhere near enough discussion about compensating volunteers.
From off-hand statements like "they want to be here" to announcing overly restrictive, difficult to navigate funding packages, there has been little done by our government to actually recognise and support the efforts made by volunteers who put their lives at risk for the greater good.
Reports that all our volunteer services - CFS, SES, RFS and Ambulance are underfunded, understaffed and under pressure have been ongoing for years and yet nothing has been done to fix the problem.
Anyone who enjoys living in a community understands the value of being a volunteer, from helping at the local school to providing emergency services, volunteering gives us the opportunity to learn new skills, contribute to our community, make friends and support each other. And while with some roles there are elements of risk attached, it is very rare that during our volunteer efforts that lives will be put in danger for days or even weeks on end. And for governments to continue to expect this of volunteers is not ok.
If the climate models are correct, extreme weather events and disasters are going to become more commonplace and everyday people - volunteers - will be placed in harms way more and more often. I'm not saying that we need to pay our volunteers each and every time they respond to a call, and even if we wanted to, it's likely that we couldn't afford it, given that the value of volunteering in Australia is conservatively estimated in the region of $100,000 billion. However, we need to ensure that when people drop everything and put themselves in danger in the course of their service, that they suffer no financial losses.
This means looking at a number of areas, such as ensuring employers are supported to enable their staff to volunteer, that those who are self-employed are recognised for their service, that adequate compensation for health issues and injuries is provided, that proper equipment and training is given to the mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends and partners that risk their lives to keep your homes and family safe.
We should not have to rely on the generosity of strangers or large corporations to do this, although we are very fortunate that so many across the world see the worth of our brave volunteers and give their own money to support a service that they may never use.
Appropriate assistance for our volunteers needs to be budgeted for and provided in a timely fashion, so that they can focus on the job at hand and not be forced to choose between helping others or paying their bills.
This needs to be more than a political play, but well considered and costed public policy, because after all, the entire country will benefit from supporting our volunteers.
- Gillian Fennell lives with her family on a remote beef property in outback South Australia. You can follow Gillian on Twitter @stationmum101.
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The story More support needed for volunteers who risk their lives first appeared on Farm Online.