"Value Your Volunteers - Or Lose Them"

In the emergency management sector, the volunteers are the people who rescue victims from car crashes and marine accidents, fight fires, protect property, evacuate people in floods and provide first aid and medical help at mass gathering such as sporting events, rallies and protests. They are the people who play a critical role in helping the community recover from disasters like floods and storms, building collapses and rail and bus accidents.

More than 400 emergency management volunteers and volunteer organisations met in Canberra on October 10, 11 and 12, to tackle some of the issues facing emergency management volunteers in Australia.

The Summit was organised by Emergency Management Australia with the support of the Department of Family and Community Services through the International Year of Volunteers. With the theme: ‘value your volunteers or lose them’, it focussed on the ways to develop a stronger volunteer sector. Through workshops and plenary sessions, it tackled problems across a range of areas from training to funding and recognition to legal liability. The Summit was officially opened by the Governor-General, Dr Peter Hollingworth AC OBE.

The 400 in Canberra last week represented the half a million volunteers in the emergency management sector – from State Emergency Services, St John Ambulance Australia, church-based groups such as Anglicare and Adracare, Red Cross, Salvation Army and surf life saving, search and rescue dog associations, coastal patrols, marine rescue and fire authorities in every State and Territory.

The volunteers acknowledged their need for a National Peak Body, which can represent volunteer emergency related organisations and give effect to the major recommendations from the Summit.

The Director General of Emergency Management Australia and Chair of the Summit Organising Committee, Mr David Templeman, said that the volunteers at the Summit had concluded that the sector is “simply not well enough recognised” by all levels of government, the community, media and industry, particularly the insurance industry.

Recognition

Examining the evidence on the expression of national recognition, the volunteers concluded that legal protection was not comprehensive, funding was deficient and training was not consistently applied across Australia.

They recognised that while support was available from the Commonwealth through EMA to tackle these problems, essentially the action lies with the volunteer organisations themselves and with the proposed National Peak Body.

The volunteers agreed that the solution to this lack of recognition lies not only with all levels of government and the media, but also with the volunteer organisations themselves.

Volunteer organisations needed to develop partnerships with each other, with the media and particularly with local government, so they can take their messages to the community in a more consistent, frequent and informative manner.

Legal/Protection

The Summit recognised that the level of protection for volunteers is uneven, and in some cases, deficient. In addition, existing arrangements are not well understood by the volunteers themselves. The problems faced by the volunteers are not well understood by local government or by State and Territory Governments.

The Summit urged all organisations to review the legal risks that their volunteers face and identify deficiencies - both legal and financial. This information should be shared both within and between States and Territories, and legislative amendments and policy developed collectively should be put forward to better support volunteers.

“We need to educate volunteers about their responsibilities and the protection to which they are entitled,” the Summit concluded.

Training

The volunteers agreed that to comply with Commonwealth and State and Territory policy, all organisations must accept the National Training Framework.

All organisations must educate their staff and volunteers to reinforce the need to implement the National Training Framework.

Volunteers concluded:

Funding

A proposal to form a National Peak Body that would develop strategies for better funding was strongly supported by the Summit.

The volunteers agreed there was a need to develop a methodology to determine the funding requirements of the organisations and their value to the community.

The Summit also agreed that: