I thank and commend the volunteers who work so hard for our communities each and every day, but I question whether our volunteers are becoming a dying breed, and if they are, why is that? Volunteers in the electorate of Cessnock help out in every facet of our community. They may be volunteers at schools serving on committees, working in canteens, taking reading classes, assisting on excursions, fundraising or preparing special events and occasions. Volunteers for sporting activities are coaches, trainers, primary carers, umpires, referees, linesmen, groundsmen, managers and committee members. Community volunteers are committee members, drivers, fundraisers, organisers, gardeners, delivery people, shop assistants, sorters, collectors, craftsmen, carers and so on. There are also the volunteers for churches and religious groups, political parties, charities, community-based programs such as radio stations, men’s sheds and branches of the Country Women’s Association—the list is endless.
Why do people volunteer, donate their time and want to help others? Some people want to give back because they have benefited from assistance previously given to them. For some it is to mix and make friends, while others see that a job needs to be done. As I look around my community and marvel at the wonderful people who continually give their time, expertise, financial support and passion to a cause, a challenge or just a job that needs doing, I also wonder about the volunteers who are quiet achievers. They want no accolades; they give freely of their time and just want to get things done. What has changed so much in our lives over the years that volunteers are getting harder to find? The same faces appear on committees for years on end—many admit that it is because they cannot get someone to take over from them. The jobs still need to be done, the causes are still just as worthy, the challenges are still as great; but, while our people base is growing, there are fewer people wanting to put up their hand.
Are we time-poor? Is it that we have become selfish and do not notice anything unless it affects us directly? I certainly hope not. Is it the old attitude of “someone else will do it”? That has never been the attitude of our community more broadly and it is certainly not the attitude of the member for Cessnock. What can we do to encourage more people to take an interest in those around them and offer to help others? An example of this change is in the sport of netball in the electorate of Cessnock. People want their children to play netball but would prefer to pay someone to do the umpiring or the canteen duty than to make a contribution and do it themselves. This is a sad turn of events. About 15 years ago my local netball association had to hold a ballot to choose umpires volunteering to go away to the State age representative weekend. So many umpires wanted to go they even paid their own way and umpired for other clubs and districts. Progressively over the years, and with club umpires being paid by parents who did not want to umpire themselves, the number of umpires has dwindled—so much so that this year not one local umpire was prepared to attend the representative weekend. The association had to pay for five umpires from a Sydney association to attend.
Why has this happened and what can be done to change the situation? What can we do to get more people involved in assisting others and then be prepared to take over from our amazing stalwarts of organisations like the local netball club? Some big businesses are trying to do their bit; they provide for their staff to have up to two paid volunteer days per year to give back to the local community. However, the days are sporadic and not a long-term solution; they are more a short-term, interim fix. I ask that we lead by example and I challenge my community to do exactly that. I ask people to get involved if their spouse, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or even close friends are involved with a group, sport or school—even if it is only in a small way. Volunteers who have given many years of service deserve support from the broader community by other people offering their help. They should be given the opportunity to step down when the time is right. We all need to play our part and, if every person makes even a small contribution, wonderful things can be achieved for our communities.