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The important contribution volunteers make in delivering community services in Canberra

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and my thanks as well to those who have already spoken on this important topic this afternoon. I think it nearly goes without saying that the delivery of community services in the ACT is helped along tremendously by the contributions made by hundreds of dedicated, selfless volunteers. It has been estimated, in fact, that volunteers contribute over $1.5 billion to the territory’s economy annually. This means that almost every facet of the community sector is benefitted by the tens of thousands of hours that these volunteers freely give because they feel a part of the Canberra community and wish to contribute to and strengthen that community. I am personally so grateful to all of them!

Today’s matter of public importance is especially fitting because this is National Volunteer Week. National Volunteer Week is an annual celebration to acknowledge the generous contribution of Australia’s many volunteers. It is good to celebrate volunteers because, as we have already noted here today, they play a huge role in delivering community services, here in the territory and across the whole nation. It is also good to celebrate volunteers because the act of volunteering itself is an important part of forming strong, resilient communities. I would like to take a moment to elaborate this last point.

First, volunteering is strongly linked to physical and mental wellbeing – both of which are crucial elements of strong communities. A 2011 report prepared by the International Journal of Person-Centred Medicine notes that 96 per cent of volunteers say that volunteering ‘makes people happier’. On a local level, a 2013 report by Volunteering ACT found that 95 per cent of volunteers in the ACT say that volunteering is related to feelings of wellbeing. Research findings back up this subjective assessment. Just a few hours of volunteer work can measurably improve a person’s mood and are also positively correlated with increased health and longevity. In fact, the evidence on this point is overwhelming. Serving as a volunteer is linked to all of the following:

  • It increases self-confidence, esteem and self-reliance.

  • It helps counteract the effects of stress, anger and anxiety.

  • It provides people with a sense of purpose.

  • It strengthens homes and family bonds.

  • It combats loneliness, social isolation and depression.

  • It provides opportunities for people to discover and explore their interests, talents and passions.

  • It helps with recovery from both physical and mental health issues.

  • And it improves life satisfaction.

In short, volunteering not only helps deliver community services in Canberra, it essentially helps bring those same benefits into the lives of the volunteers themselves, strengthening all involved.

But the benefits do not stop there. Volunteering also allows people to connect with their community, make new friends, expand friendship networks and boost social skills. At the same time, volunteering in the community sector educates people to the variety of community services that are available. Those who contribute to the work it takes to run these services learn to be able to trust them and are in a better position to refer their friends to needed services and to do so with confidence.

The benefits of volunteering cut across all ages and social groups. For example, research has shown that adults with disabilities or health conditions ranging from hearing and vision loss to heart disease, diabetes and digestive orders all show improvement after volunteering. People with limited mobility can access all the benefits of volunteering by offering their time and services via phone or the internet.

Volunteering has been found to be an important dimension of productive ageing and keeping good mental and physical health as people age. Volunteering gives people who are retired opportunities to serve and engage with the community, as well as activities to occupy spare time.

Children and youth who volunteer learn from an early age many important principles and attributes that build good habits and character, such as work (including team work), service, compassion, selflessness, the importance of giving back to the community, and so forth. I have personally seen this happen as youth that I know personally have taken the opportunity to clean graffiti from the Lyneham shops and nearby fences, prepare food for the homeless, and other such activities. Young people who engage in these activities become strong and resilient.

Finally, with the recent observance of Anzac Day, I wish to thank our veterans, those who have volunteered to give so much in defence of our freedom.

I encourage all to be contribute to Canberra’s community life by getting involved in volunteering and thank all those across the territory who do.

Thank you.

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