By Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific
Last weekend, over 200 dynamic and generous Australians came together to share their stories as part of a unique alumni of volunteers. The Returned Australian Volunteer Network Conference was held in Melbourne so these incredible ambassadors could engage with other returned volunteers and share experiences, reconnect with peers and learn from each other.
Our volunteers are at the forefront of Australia’s commitment to building greater understanding, tolerance, peace and harmony in our region. Each and every one of these selfless people makes a contribution to the Australian Government’s strategic aim to improve the security and stability of Australia’s neighbourhood.
It is our aim that we do whatever is in our power to help create a safe and stable region for all Australians. Stability for our neighbours also facilitates greater bilateral understanding, promotes economic growth, healthy democracies and citizens and ultimately contributes to the long-term prosperity of our region.
Our Australian doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers and many others are an essential part of our Overseas Development Assistance in forging vital people-to people linkages.
In the Pacific alone this financial year we supported 276 volunteers in the Pacific and 718 more broadly in the Indo Pacific region. As I travel in these areas, I make time to meet as many of these volunteers as possible and hear their amazing stories. Equally, this is a mutually beneficial programme and everywhere I go I hear from host countries about the immense value that our volunteers bring.
Since the 1960s, more than 13,000 Australian volunteers have supported organisations and communities in over 42 developing countries, helping to improve their capacity in agriculture, education, health, business and law, and many other sectors. These volunteers have returned to Australia enriched from their experience and ready to share their knowledge with the next cohort of volunteers.
The contribution our volunteers make to Australia’s foreign policy goals of supporting sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction, and advancing Australia’s reputation and relationships in partner countries, is vital. They are, to many people in our region, the public face of Australia, and ambassadors for our country.
But they are also representatives of Australia’s aid program here in Australia, communicating complex foreign policies and development issues to their family and friends. Upon their return, volunteers tell of their experiences and their enhanced understanding of the importance of Australia’s development assistance in the Indo-Pacific, and encourage others to volunteer overseas too. All of this helps to build the Australian public’s understanding of, and support for, our work.
The experiences of Australian volunteers working overseas are rich and vibrant, the contributions they make are impressive, and their role in encouraging and educating other Australians about the significance of the Australian Government’s development objectives is crucial. The Returned Australian Volunteer Network conference was an important event. It recognises our volunteers as bridge builders and change makers, and provides an opportunity for them to build their networks, engage in worthwhile development opportunities, and explore the changing nature of development in the years ahead.