NEARLY six million Australians, 31% of the entire population, volunteer their time, energy and expertise to make this country a better place to live, work and play.
If you add up all the hours that volunteers give to their communities it would amount to nearly $300 billion in economic and social benefit.
Volunteering touches every section of Australian society and the far-reaching contribution it makes builds stronger, more resilient Australian communities.
I know this because, for nearly three years, I have been privileged to chair the Sunshine Coast branch of Regional Development Australia and to work with the volunteer members of that committee.
The Sunshine Coast branch of RDA is part of a national network of 55 committees made up of local leaders who work with all levels of government, business and community groups to support the development of their regions.
We articulate local priorities, identify and align resources, engage stakeholders and promote solutions – not just for business, but for everybody who lives on the Sunshine Coast.
RDA Sunshine Coast is involved in many projects, but one of its most important functions is to advocate to achieve proper collaboration across the three levels of government – local, state and federal.
We’re funded by the Federal Government but not a dollar goes to the chairman or the members of the regional committee. They are busy men and women who are involved because they want to make a difference.
Let me introduce them:
The vice-chair is Dr Ian Young, a maxillofacial surgeon based on the Sunshine Coast for the past 19 years. Ian completed a degree as a dentist at the University of Queensland, then trained and lived in London for eight years before returning to Australia to complete his medical degree.
He is a partner in a company that makes medical and dental equipment which is distributed throughout Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
Our secretary is Glenn Ferguson, an experienced commercial and corporate lawyer with 25 years’ experience.
He was the inaugural adjunct professor of law at the University of the Sunshine Coast and is chair of the College of Law Queensland and a national governor.
Brook Kitson, who holds a Bachelor of Engineering and heads up Cardno Sunshine Coast, is our treasurer. He is project director for some of the largest master-planned communities in Australia, including the new Maroochydore city centre.
Committee member Cameron Hall is the managing director of Hall Contracting Pty Ltd. He worked in engineering consulting, risk management and recruiting for large companies in Canada and the US before returning to the family business on the Coast in 2005.
Professor Birgit Lowman is another valued committee member. She is senior deputy vice chancellor of the University of the Sunshine Coast, and has a proud history of involvement with Australian National University, Murdoch University, Griffith University and the University of Adelaide.
Kari Stephenson, who resigned at the end of last year, and marketer Judi Lalor, who joined us mid-year, contributed a great deal to RDA Sunshine Coast.
I want to publicly thank them all, as I acknowledge the valuable support of the CEOs of the Sunshine Coast and Noosa councils, especially Noosa’s Brett De Chastel, who attended all our meetings and became involved in extra committee work.
Together with our CEO Darrell Edwards and project officer Shanna Douglas, we have managed to cause a ripple across the community.
Our achievements include:
- Obtaining $3 million of federal funding under the Building Better Regions Fund for the Sunshine Coast Events Centre, and $500,000 for the Buderim Men’s Shed.
- Playing a leading role in creating a modal shift to use shared transport services, whether public or private, to ease congestion on our roads.
- Actively promoting and achieving funding to support unemployed people training to obtain drivers licence.
- Encouraging the adoption of technology across business and the community through a range of programs in association with the three levels of government.
Our committee has worked hard to deliver results for the region – reflected in key achievements across 16 separate projects – and has partnered in more than 22 events.
The tenure of the current committee finished at the end of 2017 and soon there will be a new chair and a new committee.
Although the names and faces will change, the incoming committee’s determination to bring about positive change for the Sunshine Coast will, I’m sure, be just as strong.
Volunteers, of course, are not paid. But that’s not because they are worthless; rather, it’s because they are priceless.
As well as being chair of RDA Sunshine Coast, Tony Riddle is an entrepreneur with a reputation for getting things done. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Public Accountants and a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.