Recognising the essential role of volunteers
15 May 2002 Steve Maharey Speech Notes
Address the Supergrans national conference. Frederic Wallis House, Lower Hutt.
Thank you for the invitation to address the Supergrans national conference.
As Minister responsible for the Community and Voluntary Sector I want to acknowledge the wonderful work you do assisting families in need.
Supergrans make a huge difference to so many families by teaching valuable skills that are vital to running a household or bringing up a young family.
Your organisation is able to make the difference it does because of the dedication of hundreds of skilled volunteers throughout New Zealand.
International Year of Volunteers
This government recognises how essential volunteers are to the well-being of our society.
Volunteering spans so many areas of activity from caregivers to sports coaches to mountain safety officers and surf lifesavers.
As you know, last year was the International Year of Volunteers. The Year helped to focus people’s attention on the important role of volunteers in our society - I am very keen for that focus to continue.
We had many activities last year to celebrate and promote volunteers. I want to recap briefly on the work that was done during the year because it gave rise to a number of initiatives that will be of interest to volunteers.
We were able to put quite a bit of money in the hands of voluntary groups to help them promote the aims of the Year.
We distributed around $1 million in funding to community groups through Lotteries and COGS grants, and we will invest around $4 million over the next three years to strengthen and grow volunteer centres.
You may be aware that we funded the establishment of a new national volunteering body - Volunteering New Zealand.
We have also funded an exciting new website that will help link people to volunteer opportunities online - this will be launched in a couple of months time and will be hosted by Volunteering New Zealand.
The programme for International Year of Volunteers was led by a Reference Group made up of eleven individual volunteers from around New Zealand.
I was impressed by the energy and passion the reference group brought to their role. Their job came to a close last month with a National Volunteering Conference held in Christchurch.
At this conference the Reference Group presented a report to the government that included recommendations on how we can continue to strengthen volunteering in New Zealand.
We will shortly be responding to that report. At present I am talking to other Ministers to see how we action some of the key recommendations such as:
- better research on volunteering; and
- measuring the contribution of volunteers to our Gross Domestic Product.
Many of the recommendations from the report are not so much about money but about different ways of doing things - I think this is indicative of the pragmatic and innovative approach that volunteers take to their work.
While we have increased our investment in volunteers in dollar terms over the past few years, (the $4 million I mentioned earlier for volunteer centres, as well as more than $31 million extra for the community sector last year) I believe there is a lot we can do to make a real difference for the “volunteer community’ without spending vast amounts of money.
An initiative within my own portfolio that responds directly to one of the recommendations is a project being led by the Ministry of Social Development to look at the barriers in legislation and policy to volunteering.
This is something that won’t cost a great deal but has the potential to make a big difference.
This project is unique. This is the first time in New Zealand that government agencies have come together to focus on policy issues that affect volunteers and organisations working with volunteers. The project team also includes three community representatives.
A consultation process over three months last year highlighted a range of issues for volunteers and their organisations.
For example, many people felt that the expenses of volunteering can be a barrier to participating - travel, paying for childcare, lunch, and photocopying are some of these costs.
Consultation also showed that many volunteers are uncertain about issues such as whether they are covered by ACC, whether they could face legal liability and how there expenses are treated for tax purposes.
The Volunteering Policy Project is now looking into solutions to these issues.
Some solutions may lie in better information from government about the implications of legislation on volunteering. For other matters it may be that changes in policy or legislation are required.
Tax and Charities
One area where government can make a difference for the community sector without spending big bucks is by creating incentives through the tax system for people to give generously to groups with charitable status.
On Monday Michael Cullen announced a reform package that will boost donations to charities.
The maximum rebate individuals can claim for donations to charity will increase from $500 to $630 a year.
This is a 26 percent increase in the charitable donation rebate and it reflects the shift in inflation since 1990 when the rate was last adjusted.
This rebate was clearly long overdue for an increase - the previous government’s inaction resulted in a decrease in real terms of this rate - this has now been rectified.
Corporate deduction rules will also be liberalised so a wider range of companies can deduct for tax donations of up to 5 percent of net income.
We will also create a new Charities Commission as an independent Crown Entity to register and monitor charities.
At present there is no simple means for members of the public to check the “bona fides’ of organisations claiming charitable status.
The regulatory framework is so fragmented that charities can find themselves having to deal, on a regular basis, with at least five different government agencies.
The changes will help but they are only a first step - once the Charities Commission is up and running we will have a much better picture of the size and scope of the charitable sector. We will then look at more frequent increases in the rate for rebates as well as more ways of reducing compliance costs for charities.
One of the other things we have been looking at is the definition of “Charitable Purposes”. The definition derives from the English Charitable Uses Act of 1601 - so obviously there is a real question about whether it is still appropriate.
At this stage the definition will be retained without major changes. We are, however, awaiting the results of work in other jurisdictions, such as Britain and Australia, to see how they propose to tackle the problem.
We have had a very good couple of years working with volunteers, and with the many organisations that make up the community sector.
We have had a pretty thorough look at the big issues, and we have talked with the sector about how we can work together better in the future.
I believe we are now at a point when we can focus on getting the work done - making the changes we have talked about over the last two years; changes that will pave the way for a stronger community sector and a relationship between government and the sector based on mutual trust and respect.
When we first came into office in 1999 we found a community and voluntary sector that was under considerable strain.
The relationship between government and the sector was not in good shape. Many people felt that the government was working against, rather than for, the best interests of the sector.
It was obvious that this relationship had to be repaired and that we needed a new way of working.
As a first step, it was important to have a “national’ conversation between government and the sector and also within the sector.
We appointed a Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party that:
- consulted widely with the sector;
- produced an extensive report summarising the issues facing community groups; and
- made a number of recommendations to government.
We largely agreed with what the Working Party had to say and have set up a community sector Steering Group to look at how we can action these recommendations.
I have asked the Steering Group to report to me with a detailed work programme focused on:
- strengthening the relationship between government and the sector; and
- reducing the compliance costs on community groups so they can focus on their core work.
The Steering Group will report to me in June, and shortly afterwards the government will announce its response to the report.
In responding to the report, we will move away from an emphasis on talk - although talking has been a very important part of the process - to an emphasis on action.
I have already laid out my expectations to senior government officials about the sorts of “concrete’ work I would like to see emerging and we expect to announce details of this work at the end of July.
Enhanced Caregiver support
As an organisation dedicated to supporting effective parenting I thought I would share with you some news about our plans to provide increased support for caregivers in the future before I finish today.
In this year’s Budget additional funding worth $2.339 million will go to enhancing the support services provided by caregiver support organisations.
Caregivers are a vital part of the network of assistance the community sector provides to support the needs of children - but caregivers also need support themselves because taking care of children is a tough job. This is often especially so for foster children living away from their natural families.
The new funding will go to three community agencies (all figures over four years):
- the New Zealand Family and Foster Care Federation ($800,000);
- Grandparents raising Grandchildren Charitable Trust ($45,000); and
- the New Zealand Association of Child and Family Support and Community Services ($400,000)
to help them to meet the needs of caregivers better.
It is intended that the extra funding will allow the two larger organisations to take on additional staff and will support Grandparents raising Grandchildren with their administration costs. The government wants to work in a closer partnership with the three organisations and we believe that assisting them to be more effective advocates for foster parents will, in turn, provide additional support for foster parents across New Zealand.
The funding will also be used to assist Child, Youth and Family to recruit a further 250 to 500 caregivers a year over the next four years.
A larger pool of caregivers provides the department with greater choice when looking for a placement for a child and a better opportunity to more actively match the caregiver with the individual needs of the particular child.
Both initiatives recognise that helping young people to grow up in a supportive family environment is the best investment we can make in their future. They also recognise that caregivers looking after foster children have a hard - but very rewarding - job to do and we should support them better.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today. I have a few moments left so am happy to take any questions you may have.