Community Volunteers - Vision Australia

MS BIRD (Cunningham) (19:48): Like, I am sure, many of my colleagues in this place, when we are not here but back in our electorates we are often going out to a variety of groups in our community, participating in special events with them. In this past month, as is quite often the case, it particularly struck me how many of those organisations that we were visiting, either to celebrate an occasion or to talk to them about grant funding opportunities, were driven by volunteers. It is quite extraordinary when you look across your electorate and see the organisations that are in the community doing the job of supporting their fellow local community members. I often reflect that, if governments had to fund the work that so many volunteers do, we certainly would have a significant budget challenge on our hands.

I want to take the opportunity tonight to talk about one of those groups. On 19 May I attended our local Vision Australia office, and they were having a morning tea to thank their volunteers. What was so extraordinary on this occasion is that many of the volunteers working for Vision Australia were doing a wide variety of tasks—some of them were doing radio programs and some of them were doing day-trip assistance—and many of them had a vision impairment themselves. So, while they have a vision impairment, they are looking at ways they can use their skills and abilities to help other people with a vision impairment who may not be able to do those particular tasks. It was very inspiring.

I want to take the opportunity to put on the record the people we celebrated at that particular morning tea. Sally Thompson, Mary Gillis and Sue Smart all marked five years of volunteering. Sally, Mary and Sue are audio describers who completed the training together in March 2011. They have described in theatres, in art galleries and on group outings. I was very pleased that we were able to get a grant for our local theatre, IPAC, to put hearing assistance support into the theatre so people with hearing challenges can also enjoy theatre locally.

John Costello, Tony Sarkas, Vicky Curran and Keith Rutherford received their one-year service pins for volunteering. John and Tony are both community group support volunteers—John at the Gwen Booker Centre for Vision Impaired in Corrimal and Tony at the Central Vision Impaired Group in Wollongong. And Vicky assists at the monthly walking group; they call themselves the White Cane Wanderers, and I understand it is a very popular activity. Keith works alongside the adaptive technology specialist to assist clients make the most of what technology has to offer. A very expansive and interesting video was presented to us about the significant difference that technology advancements have made for people with vision impairment and their capacity to help them participate in the community. What really struck me, as I reflected to the group, was the fact that the combination of technology and support from such an extraordinary organisation like Vision Australia, its full-time staff as well as its volunteers, does not mean we are asking the question: 'What can people with a vision impairment do?' It actually means we are asking the question: 'What can a person with a vision impairment not achieve?' It is really significant in terms of the sorts of activities, engagement and participation they are enabling.

Many of those who volunteer are people who did not have a visual impairment for most of their life; some of them have progressive illnesses that have impacted on them. Having that support around them is very important. I want to congratulate all those who celebrated this year at Vision Australia. I thank the volunteers for the work they do and I also thank the organisation for the great contribution they are making to our community. We all benefit from having those wonderful people that I met—along with my state colleague the member for Keira, Ryan Park, who was also there. It means citizens are able to fully participate in our community regardless of disability. I think that should be the aim of all of us in government as well as in our communities. A big thank you to those wonderful volunteers.