Community engagement – National service?

Recently, NSW Young Labor unanimously adopted a proposal for ‘compulsory national service for high school students as part of their graduation’. It suggested that community service could take many forms, from being an army cadet to helping with chores at the local retirement village. The SMH suggested on 6 January this year that the proposal would be presented to the party’s State and Federal Conferences.

Thanks to Leahy

In its draft ‘the Common Wealth’, The Centre for Policy Development set out what it regards as an important public value – community engagement. We pointed out that

The individual exists in a network of relationships – family, friends, acquaintances, local community, nation, global. He or she obtains fulfilment as a member of society with rights and duties. He or she is mindful of the rights and needs of others…

The Centre for Policy Development believes that social and community engagement should be promoted. We are more than the sum of individuals.

In their book ‘Imagining Australia: Ideas for Our Future ‘, Duncan, Leigh, Madden and Tynan (Allen and Unwin), present the case (p.211) for an ‘Australia Corps’ which has some of the objectives of the Young Labor proposal, but with important differences. Their proposal is as follows:

Young Australians are idealistic and keen to make a difference in their communities. Yet despite an increase in volunteering by young people during the late 1990s, those aged 15-24 volunteer less than all other age groups – perhaps reflecting an uncertainty about how best to contribute to their communities. One way of harnessing the energy of young Australians would be to create a domestic version of Australian Volunteers International, which allows Australians to volunteer in developing nations. A local version – ‘Australia Corps’ – would provide the chance for youth to serve for one year in a disadvantaged community. In return they would receive, in addition to a living stipend, an education credit, which could be used to offset HECS debt or to pay for other training. Australia Corps volunteers would be directed towards our poorer and more diverse communities, where the need is greatest. They could build low income housing, teach literacy and computer skills to new immigrants, work in non-profit organizations or assist indigenous communities. Australia Corps could help re-energise the thousands of community organizations that are trying to survive with persistently limited resources. Best of all, the benefits of the Australia Corps would go well beyond the community groups themselves. A large cohort of young Australians with hands-on experience in volunteering will help form a new civic generation, more engaged with their local community and more committed to strengthening the social bonds between Australians.

What do you think?

The Centre for Policy Development

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