Voluntas program offers free dispute solutions for Australia’s volunteers

Published: Monday 9th May 2016

ACU’s Professor Laurence Boulle has been instrumental in forming a special volunteer group of mediation experts that focuses on helping volunteers and volunteer managers resolve conflict.

More than 1 million Australians volunteer with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and Not-For-Profit groups (NFP) each year, and sometimes disputes between volunteers and management arise.

Professor Boulle, who is one Australia’s top mediators and Professor of Law at the Thomas More Law School, said the Voluntas program is a free service which provides mediation professionals to the volunteering sector.

Dr Boulle said conflict was part of everyday life and most people and organisations resolve disputes themselves, however unresolved conflicts and badly managed disputes give rise to risks and costs that damage volunteers and their organisations.

“The Centre for Volunteering and other organisations have told us that volunteers and volunteer managers often don’t know where to get help if they are experiencing ongoing conflict in their organisation,” he said.

“Plus volunteers and NFPs generally have little or no budget for professional mediation services.

“Voluntas believe that early assistance in transforming conflict through constructive conversations can prevent conflict from escalating and can resolve conflicts more quickly.

“This can help everyone get on with the task of contributing through their valuable volunteer work.”

Dr Boulle said volunteers willingly give their time for the common good and without financial gain but sometimes can develop a sense of entitlement and this can trigger disputes when volunteer organisations change policies regarding allowances, travel, uniforms or reimbursement.

“We believe that constructive, timely conversations with an impartial  person guiding the discussion will make a difference in the volunteering sector to improve dignity, respect and fairness for anyone experiencing conflict,” he said.

The Voluntas trial service is expected to run for six months to August 2016 and the need for this type of service will be evaluated. Common themes or issues that cause conflict for volunteers and volunteer organisations will also be examined.

Professor Boulle practiced law for five years before becoming an academic and since then has held academic positions at four Australian law schools and has taught at universities in New Zealand, the Pacific, Africa and Europe.

He was a foundation staff member at the Bond University Law School where he established the Dispute Resolution Centre which continues to provide extensive training and continuing professional development after two decades.

He has practised for more than 20 years as a mediator and as consultant to governments on conflict management and dispute systems design.

He was chair of the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council for two terms and  Chair of the Mediator Standards Board. He has also served on the National Native Title Tribunal as a part-time member.

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