7 June 2016
A statement from Volunteering Victoria CEO Sue Noble
Volunteers in the emergency services save lives. Their work is a major component of what we are talking about when we say that volunteering in Australia contributes an estimated $290 billion in value to the Australian economy – this figure includes the realistic estimate of lives saved by volunteers including firefighters, surf lifesavers and first aid practitioners.
The generosity of emergency services volunteers is perhaps most strongly demonstrated and noticed in times of crisis. In the time surrounding Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, over 22,000 people spontaneously volunteered their support, together with the 4,000 CFA volunteers who responded to the fires.
The scale of the volunteer effort in the emergency services is clear from the fact that there are 1,147 volunteer fire brigades, 60,000 volunteer firefighters and 5,000 State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers in the State of Victoria alone. And this doesn’t take into account the volunteers that support the other emergency response, relief and recovery agencies.
Volunteering Victoria fundamentally believes that volunteers deserve to be afforded the same level of rights and respect, and to be valued as highly as paid staff.
Volunteers are not covered by the same protections in the workplace as paid staff are through Fair Work Australia. Bodies such as Volunteering Victoria and Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria exist to give a voice to volunteers and to ensure their rights are protected.
In the emergency services, volunteers have been highly trained and supervised to ensure a specialist knowledge in their field. This kind of authority must be respected and fostered.
We agree that any measure which undermines the capacity of volunteers to protect their own communities will ultimately lead to volunteers feeling unsupported and demotivated, which has a negative impact on us all.
In rural areas, volunteers in the emergency services are connected and contribute across their communities in ways that extend far beyond fighting fires. Devaluing the work of volunteers will act in the same way as pulling a linchpin from the axle of these communities; the wheels that keep these rural areas turning will simply stop without support for emergency services volunteers.
The State Government has recognised the importance of training highly qualified volunteers in the emergency services only last month by providing $46.2m in the State Budget to build improved training centres for volunteer and paid firefighters in the Central Highlands and upgrades to Huntley Victorian Emergency Management Training College. This recognition must be carried through and translated into support for the work rights of volunteers across the emergency services.
Volunteering Victoria stands with volunteers in the emergency services and, as the state-wide peak body for volunteering, will continue to advocate for the rights of all volunteers to be valued equally in their places of voluntary work and respected for the incalculable contribution they make to our community.