Volunteer Screening Checks (March 2020)

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (14:46): My question is to the Attorney-General. Can the Attorney, representing the Minister for Human Services, update the house on how the Marshall Liberal government is lowering costs for volunteers through free screening checks for volunteers?

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General) (14:46): I would be delighted to. I want to commend the member for Hammond for his work as a volunteer, which we have most recently seen across the state when the Coomandook CFS truck was out there firefighting. I think you were rescuing koalas and all sorts of things. We really do appreciate that, and I thank the people of Hammond for their contribution.

In 2018, we made a commitment as a new government as we came into government that we would make sure that we reduced the impact for South Australians on their out-of-pocket expenses in dealing with the fee payable to become a volunteer and the clearances that are necessary. As members are aware, we have this critical balance between ensuring that our most vulnerable in the community—namely, our children particularly but mature age, etc.—are protected, and that we maintain accessibility by our volunteers to be able to pursue that and support children, vulnerable persons and others.

It's a fine balance, but we decided on coming into government that it was important to recognise the volunteers as the lifeblood of our community in sporting clubs, schools, community centres and the like. Members may well be aware that we now have more than 900,000 volunteers each year. This is approximately 66 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 84 contributing to an estimated 1.73 million volunteer hours per week. Knowing the importance of this and the cost impacts, the government abolished those screening fees, which was effective from 1 November 2018. This reform, is also enshrined in the law. Previously, under the Labor government volunteers were charged $59.40 per screening application, that is, an application—

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order, sir: I didn't move a point of order with the question, which was full of comments, but now the Attorney-General is debating the answer.

The SPEAKER: The member would know that the point of order should be taken up at the time of the alleged infringement. I rule consistent with my earlier ruling, but I will listen to the Deputy Premier and make sure she doesn't overstep the mark.

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: To identify the saving that is made, I confirm that under the previous government the fee that was charged was $59.40—

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Point of order.

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: This is what we have provided—

The SPEAKER: There is a point of order.

The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: Every time the Deputy Premier mentions the former Labor government it is debate, sir.

The SPEAKER: I ask the member for West Torrens to depart the chamber for the remainder of question time under 137A, and that is not open to debate or dissent.

The honourable member for West Torrens having withdrawn from the chamber:

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN: When we came into office as a brand-new government the fee that applied in South Australia that volunteers had to pay was $59.40 per screening application, that is, an application to allow those volunteers to work with children, vulnerable persons and others. So, while the screening checks are crucial, as I have outlined, we made that commitment and we undertook to change the law to make it effective since November 2018.

This government by that action, reinforced by this parliament, has saved South Australians $3.4 million since making those screening checks free for all volunteers. This is a saving directly into the pockets of families in exchange for people giving up their valuable time. I am advised that a total of 56,690 South Australians have applied for more than 71,000 free volunteer screening checks through the Department of Human Services Screening Unit. The majority of these applications have been received from those applying for working with children checks, with the Department of Human Services approving over 366,000 volunteers for free.

These are volunteers who are volunteering in our schools, on excursions, at local attractions, museums and as bus drivers. These are people giving up their time to give back to the community. As we can all appreciate, any amount of money saved is good for South Australians and good for our state. It simply means that the money previously allocated by families for volunteer checks can be directly injected into the economy and into the sector to help organisations such as the sports clubs, etc., emergency services, charities, etc., to deliver the vital services for their local communities.

We are very proud of that. Just in my own electorate recently I attended a local tennis club at Kensington Gardens. Their volunteers work behind the bar at the canteen, they teach children how to play tennis and they volunteer on game days to get the kids involved in sport. Most of the members here in this house, I am sure, would recognise the significance in their own electorates of the benefit to those local communities.

In our local area, the local council, the City of Burnside, provides a free bus service to operate for those in the area. It is a transport operation that is made available—again, free checks. The local kindergarten at Wattle Park I recently visited provides services to the children. People come in and volunteer, read to children, play with plasticine and all the other things they do—a fantastic effort.

Only under this government are SA volunteers better off. I reiterate that the volunteer screening checks remain free for all South Australians, and the fee continues to be waived for all five screening types, including working with children, vulnerable people and in the aged-care sector for people who use the checks as a volunteer. I look forward to more people taking up this opportunity, and I am proud to have been part of a government to provide it.