4 December 2000

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Australian community-without them, many non-profit organisations would grind to a halt, according to University of Queensland lecturer Dr Jeni Warburton.

Dr Warburton, of UQ's Social Work and Social Policy Department, has co-edited the first comprehensive book on volunteers and volunteering in Australia.

The book,Volunteers and Volunteering (Federation Press), will be launched on December 5-co-inciding with the launch day of the International Year of Volunteers designated for 2001 by the United Nations.

Edited by Dr Warburton and historian Melanie Oppenheimer, the book notes
that the tradition of volunteering in Australia has been part of the society's social and economic fabric since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

Dr Warburton said the pivotal role of 50,000 volunteers to the success of the recent 2000 Sydney Olympics had renewed public enthusiasm for volunteers.

"Each year, 2.6 million Australians donate 434 million hours of their time in voluntary work but this is an activity that has long been underestimated, under-researched and undervalued," she said.

"Volunteers work in non-profit organisations that provide services in areas such as social welfare and health, the arts, sports, the environment and a range of other areas. Without volunteers, many of these crucial services would simply not be delivered.

"Volunteers are not only essential to service delivery but contribute to a sense of community and the development of civil society. Volunteers help to build a better society.

"The book examines the current roles of volunteers and their contribution to Australian society and differentiates ?formal' volunteering for non-profit organisations from ?informal' volunteering such as caring for family members or helping neighbours and friends.

"It also discusses the changes in community values and government policy that shape volunteering and the inclination and capacity of people to volunteer."

Dr Warburton said that a major theme of the book focuses on the future for volunteering. Will people still be prepared to volunteer when they work longer hours, women are more likely to be in paid work and restrictions are placed on those outside paid work?

"One of the dilemmas facing many non-profit organisations is the move towards ?compulsory volunteering' through government programs such as work for the dole. If the notion of ?choice' is a key part of the definition of volunteering, are participants in these programs ?volunteers'?" she said.

The book examines the reasons why people volunteer. "It's not as simple as saying it is mainly women, retirees or people with time on their hands. It seems the decision to volunteer involves a value response with altruism playing a key role.

"These ?highly committed volunteers'-who volunteer on average a total of 13 hours a week-may represent the future in Australia as overall numbers of volunteers decline," Dr Warburton said.

Including chapters by volunteer Joy Noble, social scientist Eva Cox, sociologists Michael Pusey and Cora Baldock and economist Duncan Ironmonger, the book will be launched during the Australian and New Zealand Third Sector Research Conference to be held at the University of Western Sydney Parramatta Campus in Sydney from December 2-5.

For more information, contact Dr Jeni Warburton (mobile 0417 219006 on Monday and Tuesday, December 4 and 5, or 07 3365 1254 other times) or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339).