Motions: Volunteer Screening Checks

Wednesday October 24, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:39): I move:

That this house urges the state government to—

(a) acknowledge the invaluable service that volunteers provide to the community; and

(b) investigates a Blue Card system, similar to the Queensland model, in relation to the department for communities and social inclusion (DCSI) screenings.

South Australia has one of the highest rates of volunteering in Australia. More than 900,000 South Australians give their time to volunteer, contributing 1.7 million volunteer hours each week. This combined effort is equivalent to around 107,000 full-time jobs and is valued at almost $5 billion each year.

Regionally, the volunteer effort is even stronger. Nearly 60 per cent of the state's rural population engages in volunteer work, whether it is running a barbecue at Bunnings for a sports club or donating time to the local animal shelter. There are nearly 21,000 not-for-profit associations in South Australia that depend on teams of volunteers to contribute their services, and many people volunteer at multiple organisations.

In today's society, organisations are more cautious about who they allow to volunteer, and rightly so. That is why volunteers are required to undergo police checks and working with vulnerable people checks to assess their suitability for different roles. National studies have shown that the two main reasons why people choose not to volunteer are personal expense and red tape. Recently, the South Australian state Liberal government announced the scrapping of the $60 volunteer screening fee, which is a win for our volunteers and a move which will benefit many regional organisations and events. This is a great step towards removing a cost burden upon our hardworking volunteers and organisations, and something that I commend the state Liberal government on.

However, the red tape issues continue for South Australian volunteers. Currently, volunteers who work at a number of organisations are having to undertake not one but multiple police checks. This is because our system is not centralised. To ensure our state's level of volunteering continues into the future, we need to make volunteering as easy as possible and streamline our current system. We should be rewarding our volunteers, not making them jump through hoops to give their time.

In other states, checks are interchangeable between organisations. In Victoria, the working with children check is valid for five years and designed to be transferable between all accredited organisations in that state. Queensland, however, has taken the lead. In 2001, the Blue Card system was introduced across the state to protect and monitor people who work with children and young people. The Blue Card system is recognised as one of the most comprehensive and rigorous employment screening frameworks in Australia and the only one that incorporates the management of past, present and future risks by including real-time monitoring. Equally importantly, it means that volunteers go through just one application process to work across multiple organisations for three years.

The system recognises the vulnerability of children and the obligations of employers, the government and the community as a whole. It is important to note that the Blue Card is not a one-off police check; rather, it determines the eligibility of individuals to work with children through the comprehensive assessment of any past police or disciplinary information. The police information relating to all cardholders and applicants is monitored. If the information changes, immediate steps are taken to protect children from harm.

Over the 17 years that it has been running, the Blue Card system has gone through several reviews to strengthen it, close gaps and ensure that it is working in the way it was designed to. More than 100,000 organisations and service providers are registered with the system. If our state Liberal government were to implement a similar one-card system, it would have multiple benefits. Not only would it reduce red tape for volunteers but it would offer South Australia's most vulnerable—that is, children, the elderly and disabled—greater protection and safety by closing the gaps through real-time monitoring. Ultimately, it will increase our volunteering rate.

Many local organisations have spoken out about the need to attract younger volunteers to take over from the generation that is currently undertaking volunteering, but they are struggling to find the younger cohort. As elected members, we should be looking for ways to reduce impacts on our local communities, and this is a measure that I believe would have a major impact on South Australia: one check for multiple agencies, which lasts three years and has real-time monitoring. Could it be any simpler?

I have spoken to a number volunteers in my community about introducing this to South Australia and all agree that a one-card system would be of immense benefit. Kylie Boston, a mum of two who lives in the small town of Yahl near Mount Gambier, volunteers for no less than five organisations. On any given day, she might be typing up the newsletter for the South Gambier Netball Club, running a barbecue for the Yahl Primary School or writing a funding application for the Mount Schank Tennis Club. Kylie says she loves giving her time to these small community organisations and was raised in a family where volunteering was considered very important. This year, Kylie was named the Grant district council's Australia Day Citizen of the Year for her many volunteering roles.

Kylie said that she has lost count of all the police checks she has had to apply for. During the last three years, she has had to get six individual checks: three separate police checks and three separate working with children checks. Despite the fact that she already has the okay from one organisation, others will not accept her existing checks and she has to go out and get new ones. I agree with Kylie when she says that the policies are not consistent. Kylie believes that having a card with a photo, an ID number and an expiry date would not only streamline the system but allow more people to engage in volunteering.

I hear the argument about what happens if somebody commits an offence yet has the card for three years. This is where the real-time monitoring comes in. Just as is the case with your driver's licence, the card is cancelled, organisations that have you registered would be notified and the card would need to be handed in to the local police station.

Every morning, Rodney Summers pops his head into my electorate office with a smile and drops off the daily mail. Rodney volunteers his time at the Mount Gambier Lakes Rotary Club, Meals on Wheels, Western Border Football League, Mount Gambier district basketball association, Bendigo Bank, Sunset Community Kitchen and others. His wife, Judy, also devotes time each week as a coordinator for drivers and deliveries for the local Meals on Wheels. Both Rodney and Judy have had to get multiple police checks for their work in those organisations.

As the president of the Lakes Rotary Club, Mount Gambier, Rodney often has to round up teams of volunteers for events so that the club is able to fundraise. He says that the current system affects volunteering rates as people put it in the too-hard basket and decide not to help out. You have to see his point when a volunteer has to go through the process of applying for a police check, plus a working with children check, to sell fairy floss for two hours at the Mil-Lel show.

We should be making it easier to volunteer in South Australia, not harder. A one-card system would save volunteers time when working across multiple agencies and help our valuable volunteer organisations continue their good work. This is about reducing barriers to volunteering and making it easier for people to give their time. The pathway to volunteering should be simple and effective and not result in costs upon the person. Let's make it easier, not harder, to volunteer.

The time impact upon volunteers also needs to be taken into consideration. If a volunteer has to fill out three applications a year, as many do, how many hours are wasted in filling out forms that have already been filled out before? If we have 900,000 volunteers in our state, it adds up to thousands of hours lost in filling out unnecessary paperwork. Quite frankly, I think a person's time is better spent volunteering. With those comments, I commend the motion to the house.