Friends of Grasslands

supporting native grassy ecosystems

PO Box 987

Civic Square ACT 2608

Phone: 02 62.. ....

Volunteer Statement Secretariat

Strategic Policy

ACT Government Community Service Directorate

GPO Box 158

Canberra ACT 2601

email: ACTVolunteering@act.gov.au

Dear Sir/Madam

ACT Volunteer Statement

FOG is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia. FOG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its more than 200 members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public.

As a community group FOGís activities are all undertaken on a voluntary basis. As such, we have read with interest the ACT Volunteer Information Paper, and support much of its contents. There are a few further thoughts on volunteering that we would like to draw to your attention.

Volunteering should be seen as a behaviour and not just defined by the end purpose. It should encompass the furthering of scientific knowledge (surveys, building scientific collections, family and social history, organising and participating in educational activities), cultural (museums, etc), advocacy (preparing of submissions on important political and social issues), ideological (religious or other beliefs), business and professional associations (organising business, industry and unions), and politics (participating in the political process such as campaigning), each of which is important in a proper functioning system. The behaviour does not include mere attendance at functions but does include active skill development and carrying out of tasks.

Volunteering brings rewards such as learning a range of knowledge and skills that might not otherwise be available; learning to adapt and therefore enhance ones skills in new situations; mental and physical exercise and generally better health; achieving personal goals or outcomes; changing or saving the world (not to be underestimated); developing a network of friends; and social recognition.

One aspect of volunteering that our members have found is the ability to learn new skills that may assist in career and/or personal development. If volunteering is seen as a core element of our lives, it provides, throughout our lives, opportunities to develop work and life skills. As well as those skills that are the core of the groupís objectives, this can include issues such as governance, financial management, people management, fundraising and advocacy.

Since much volunteer activity takes place through organised groups there is a need for individual volunteers to be accountable and/or supervised by the group. Accountable means that each experienced volunteer should give account of what he/she has done. Supervision is required for new comers to learn skills and procedures. Often it is best if the supervisors are themselves volunteers, rather than paid staff. It is important that appropriate training is given by the group so that they may supervise others and/or learn to be accountable.

In some areas insufficient attention is paid to training of volunteers, especially in smaller organisations. However, such training is essential if groups are to succeed and to provide a satisfactory experience for volunteers. Training should also include health and safety, governance issues, fundraising, etc. Government policy should address what training should be provided and how it is best provided. We see Government as having a role to play in assisting community groups to build their skills infrastructure and training.

On the other hand, we need to avoid the myth that government is responsible for everything. Our society and environment are our responsibilities and we should ask ourselves what can we do, individually and collectively, to realise our vision of the type of society and environment we want. Taking responsibility also breaks the dependency syndrome, wanting others to solve our problems. Government policy and resources may assist, but should not be the sole source of direction and resource.

Voluntary engagement by the community sector in the machinery of government (e.g. by expert submissions on reports and other advocacy) is a reality in modern societies. It is important that groups such as FOG can relate to the formal political process well, in addition to relating to day to day government operation in our areas of interest. The wide range of backgrounds in volunteer groups such as FOG (e.g. including scientists, professional managers and land owners and as well as conservationists and enthusiasts) means that such groups represent a much broader public perspective than is possible via the current political representation process, and consequently have a responsibility to ensure that their claims are sound and based in fact, a responsibility that FOG takes very seriously.

Health and safety standards and competence qualifications should be developed for volunteers. Those currently used in employment are too cumbersome. Volunteers should be able, after not too onerous training, to be certified as having a certain skill (competence) to undertake the task required of them. For volunteer groups in the environmental area, the types of certification would include: first aid, use of chemicals and equipment (chain saws). This certification process is currently evolving. A volunteer policy needs to come up with practical recommendations in this respect in consultation with volunteer groups.

To achieve their objectives, and once a certain size is achieved, voluntary groups often need to employ staff and/or engage contractors. The tasks and costs involved in doing so are nightmarish and a barrier to many groups taking this step, which discriminates in favour of well established groups. There are many issues here that need to be examined to minimise this disadvantage.

Governance, including financial management and volunteer management is not well understood by government and by most volunteers. Many not-for-profit groups may be daunted by governance and financial issues and how best to manage the training and operation of volunteers to bring out the best in them. A holistic investigation and approach is required.

We are pleased to see that a Volunteering for the Environment Strategy is being developed.† In our experience, environment volunteers sometimes have had to fight to gain recognition. We would be happy to participate in the development of this strategy.

Sincerely yours

John Fitz Gerald

President

12 September 2011