The announcement by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that migrants seeking Australian citizenship will need to demonstrate how they have contributed to the Australian community shows the Government respects volunteering as a tangible contribution to our social fabric.
The PM’s statement said applicants for citizenship will be “required to show the steps they have taken to integrate into and contribute to the Australian community.” Belonging to a community organisation was nominated as suitable proof – along with employment and school enrolment of eligible children.
Australians are a land of volunteers – around one third of the population undertake volunteering making an estimated annual contribution of $290 billion to the nation’s economic and social good. According to a study by economists at the Johns Hopkins University, the economic value of volunteer work in Australia is 21% of government consumption expenditure – the largest share of any developed country. Only Africa at 23% had a higher level of volunteer work as a proportion of government spending.
We don’t have the data to know what proportion of migrants volunteer – but we can assume that the drive inherent in the willingness to start a new life can also be the same spirit that motivates people to act beyond their own self-interest and do something for their wider community.
Certainly that energy and selflessness is demonstrated by Farhana Mostofa who volunteers with the Probashi Bangladeshi Women’s Association (winner of the 2016 Volunteer of the Year in the Sydney Inner West Region). Despite being a new migrant herself, Farhana assists other Bangladeshi women integrate by helping them to access local services and also by reaching out to other community organisations to foster networks of support amongst different groups.
Volunteers of all backgrounds clearly demonstrate the ‘Australian Values’ the Federal Government is rightly keen to promote : Along with other peak volunteering bodies, The Centre for Volunteering is asking the Federal Government to show that it values volunteering by restoring the dedicated funding to volunteering support services.
VSS are the ‘invisible’ backbone supporting the volunteering efforts of more than 5.8 million Australians who volunteer. Volunteering is a public good that needs public investment.