To read the full submission please click here.

Introduction

On 8 April 2020, the Senate resolved to establish a Select Committee on COVID-19 to inquire into the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence to the committee on the impact of COVID-19 on volunteering and the response of the Australian Government. Our submission only focuses on the Australian Government’s response as pertaining to volunteering.

This submission was drafted by Volunteering Australia in collaboration with the State and Territory peak volunteering bodies. Our submission draws on some recent strands of activity:

  • The State and Territory peak volunteering bodies and Volunteering Australia have undertaken surveys of their members in recent weeks to understand better the impact on the sector and the concerns of volunteer involving organisations.
  • Volunteering Australia commissioned the Australian National University (ANU) Centre for Social Research and Methods to undertake research into the experience of volunteers during COVID-19. To date, this is the only national analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on volunteers and volunteering.
  • Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Volunteering Australia and the State and Territory peak volunteering bodies have met on a weekly basis to share experience and plan responses. This submission draws on that collective expertise.

Overview

Volunteering has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our assessment is that the Australian Government has not engaged strategically with volunteering during the pandemic. The lack of engagement and response from the Australian Government in relation to volunteering has risked the safeguarding of volunteers and ignored the critical role that volunteers play during emergencies. Volunteering has been absent from COVID-19 related guidance emanating from the Australian Government and from key institutions and frameworks set up to manage the response. This is despite the scale of the volunteer workforce and its social and economic power.

To ensure that volunteers are protected and enabled to make their contribution as we learn to live with COVID-19, we recommend the following:

  • A package of measures to reinvigorate volunteering

This would include the urgent inclusion of volunteers in COVID-19-related guidance emanating from the Australian Government and investment in a ‘safe-return-to-volunteering’ awareness campaign.
Volunteering Australia commissioned the Australian National University to analyse the impact of COVID-19 on volunteering. This research revealed nearly two thirds of volunteers have stopped volunteering and that this has had significant consequences for their mental health and wellbeing. The reinvigoration of volunteering will help safeguard the mental health of the millions of people who volunteer, in addition to the wider contribution that volunteers make to the Australian community.

  • A seat at the table in response and recovery institutions

Volunteering needs to be involved in key institutions and forums set up by the Australian Government to guide the nation’s response and recovery. Without this, the voices of millions of people who have a critical role to play in the social and economic recovery will be missing. Each year, nearly 6 million people volunteer.1 Volunteers play essential roles in community, health and welfare services, many of which are anticipating an increase in service demand in coming months.

  • A whole of government National Volunteering Statement

The lack of strategic and co-ordinated response from the Australian Government needs to be addressed. Responsibility for volunteering sits with the Department of Social Services yet volunteers contribute to public policy concerns across government, such as disability, health and aged care services, the sustainability of sports and the arts, and emergency management and planning.
A National Volunteering Statement would enable a much-needed strategic approach to volunteering and guide future government action and investment.

This submission covers the following:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on volunteers and volunteering
  • The response of the Australian Government
  • The response of the volunteering sector
  • Recommendations for now and the future

To read the full submission please click here.