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Cost of volunteering becoming prohibitive
25 May 2006
by Rohan Wade

Tasmania, Australia: Volunteers would get tax deductions and reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses under a proposal aimed at easing the cost burden on community-minded citizens.

Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett will today outline a 13-point plan to volunteer organization chiefs, arguing for greater government assistance for volunteers who are facing rising costs while doing unpaid work.

The plan, drawn up in conjunction with Volunteering Australia and Volunteering Tasmania, says that more should be done to help volunteers and their organizations.

Volunteer work is estimated to be worth as much as $53 billion a year to Australia -- more than five per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

The proposal, which has been circulated to volunteering groups, calls for an expert group to analyse options for better tax deductability status for the country's 6.3 million volunteers.

Most volunteers are unable to claim deductions because their expenses are not incurred while earning assessable income.

Senator Barnett says in the proposal that while volunteering is a vital part of the country's social fabric, particularly in regional Australia, the cost of volunteering is becoming prohibitive.

He said he received a complaint from a Hobart volunteer who was no longer able to afford the $100-a-week petrol bill incurred through community service.

The proposal also states that in conjunction with increased tax deductability, improved contributions to out-of-pocket expenses should also be examined.

It states that while Volunteering Australia promotes the right of volunteers to be reimbursed for costs, many are still paying for the opportunity to volunteer.

While volunteer organisations aimed to meet their volunteers' expenses, it was only through adequate organisational funding by governments that this could be relied on.

The proposal also wants governments to recognise or reward corporate Australia for encouraging employees to volunteer.

"All businesses, but especially big business, can donate an employee's time -- that is, one day a month -- for a worthwhile charity. If this can be made part of the work practice of business, it can be most effective," the proposal says.

It describes volunteers as a "silent army", intent on plugging the gaps in Australia's welfare system.