Community Business

St John Ambulance cares for its volunteers through crisis

By Leon Gettler >>

ST JOHN AMBULANCE, like many Australian organisations, has had to deal with the recent social isolation of its people. In the case of St John Ambulance, the question was how to keep its 130 volunteers engaged.

The strategy employed could be a lesson for other Australian businesses.

St John Ambulance used technology to support its 130 strong team of volunteers to remain connected and engaged with the organisation during this period of strict social distancing. 

This is a critical component for the organisation as it relies on a team of volunteers who are engaged to support the community. 

The Granville Division of St John Ambulance exists to support its local health services with first aid support and services, and equipping individuals, families, and workplaces with high quality equipment. The team also has a critical role in major incidents – such as COVID-19 – where they will work alongside emergency services in times of need. 

Specifically it used the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse in Sydney, an automated pre-built survey that enables employers to gather vital information about its employees in near real time.


Didier Moutia, the commissioner of St John Ambulance Australia (NSW), said the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse technology delivered results and kept the team engaged. But much of it was also due to the systems that St John Ambulance already had in place.

“When this happened we had to look at alternative ways to provide contact with our members and also provide that social outreach to members so we looked to technology as a potential to solve that issue,” Mr Moutia told Talking Business

He said the Qualtrics’ Remote Work Pulse was used to reach out to all its volunteers and it was done in a confidential way that allowed the organisation to understand how they were tracking.

The survey is sent out to volunteers every Monday and asks them some simple questions: how are they feeling, what’s contributing to that feeling, and if there is anything St John Ambulance could do to help them, whether it was a physical requirement, such as helping to get their shopping, or whether it was a social or member welfare requirement, such as having someone contact them, or include them in social activities online.

“So it’s really just an ability for us on a week to week basis to monitor the membership, but on an individual basis, to be able to see what people are doing and what we can help them with,” he said.  

“The challenge with volunteers and any people in a group is we can ask them collectively how they’re going and they will say okay, however, what often happens is people will suffer in silence,” Mr Moutia said.

“But when you do reach out to them, our experience with this particular product is we get real feedback from people, particularly those who are struggling or who would otherwise not put their hand up or to offer that in a public forum.”

He said some of members had struggled with the social isolation aspects.

There had also been volunteers who had lost their jobs or family members to coronavirus.

When certain responses are elicited in the survey, an email is sent to leaders like Mr Moutia.

St John has an extensive peer support and chaplaincy program and leaders can engage those services for the volunteers.

He said it has well received by the volunteers who have remained totally engaged in a challenging time for everyone.

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at

Health professionals, Women's Shelters and case managers partner on COVID-19 domestic violence

THE Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai Women’s Shelter is calling for greater collaboration between medical centres, hospitals, emergency services, pharmacists, mental health professionals and domestic violence services to cope with an expected surge in demand from women facing abuse or homelessness, throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

President of the Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai Women’s Shelter, Louise McCann said women at risk were especially vulnerable during this critical period of safe social distancing and isolation.

“Social distancing and isolation throughout COVID-19 means vulnerable women in our community face greater barriers to accessing help,” Ms McCann said. 

“It’s critical that at this time that health professionals and domestic violence service providers work together to ensure women have access to the vital support services they need.” 

Ms McCann said HKWS is launching an awareness campaign to reach out to local and regional health professionals and services to inform them about the essential services HKWS can offer their patients.

“Women turn to doctors and nurses in emergency, often suffering critical injuries. However, health professionals often don’t know where to refer their patients after they have been treated,” Ms McCann said.

“HKWS has dedicated Shelter professionals on hand, delivering comprehensive case management programs to women in need, assisting them to get their lives back on track.”


Ms McCann said the Shelter, along with health professionals, was preparing for a surge in domestic violence as a consequence of COVID-19.

HKWS, as part of the Women’s Community Shelters network, is preparing for a potential 30 percent increase in demand for support services because of COVID-19.

“Fear of uncertainty, job loss and financial stress are key risks that could lead to an increase in domestic violence,” Ms McCann said.

HKWS housed 58 clients last year, but was forced to turn away 105 women because of a lack of resources.

HKWS is seeking pro bono assistance from health providers including psychologists or counsellors who can provide services digitally.

“HKWS is expanding our outreach services to help more women in need during this difficult period,” Ms McCann said. 

“As part of this we are extending the provision of mental health support, which is even more important at this time.”

Ms McCann said Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai Women’s Shelter aims to provide temporary supported accommodation for women in times crisis such as homelessness and/or domestic violence.

Women stay at the shelter for up to three months and are allocated specialist caseworkers who support them to assist necessary legal, health, employment and financial services. Women who cannot be housed can access out outreach program.


Coles donates extra $1m a week in food to support work of Foodbank and SecondBite for vulnerable people

COLES has announced it will donate extra food and groceries to the retail value of $1 million a week "to help Australians who are facing hardship as a result of the coronavirus".

The food donations will be directed to food relief organisations, Foodbank and SecondBite, which will in turn distribute the food to up to 3800 community food programs across Australia. 

Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said the decision to increase Coles’ food donations was in response to increasing demand for food relief from vulnerable Australians.

"For many years, we have donated surplus edible food from our supermarkets and distribution centres but sadly we are hearing that an increasing number of people in our community are facing particularly tough times as a flow-on effect of the Coronavirus,” Mr Cain said.

“We hope that by donating an additional $1 million in food each week to SecondBite and Foodbank, we can help get food and essentials to people who are especially vulnerable at this unprecedented time.

“It goes to the heart of our strategy which is to feed all Australians and help them lead healthier, happier lives.”

The announcement comes just days after Coles introduced a dedicated Community Hour at its supermarkets to improve access to essential groceries for the elderly and disadvantaged during the period of unprecedented demand.

Community Hour is held on weekdays from 7am to 8am in all Coles supermarkets, with access exclusively for customers who hold a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Seniors Health Card, Companion Card, Seniors Card, Disability Card or Health Care Card.

SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan welcomed the additional food donations.

“A key issue for us at the moment is keeping up with the growing demand," Mr Mullan said. "Coles currently donates surplus food from around 780 supermarkets and these additional donations from its distribution centres will help us to reach an increasing number of people in need."

Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey said the combination of drought, bushfires and coronavirus had placed unprecedented pressure on the charity’s food supplies.

“We are already assisting 815,000 people a month, but the need for food relief is skyrocketing at a time when donations of essential food and groceries are reducing," Ms Casey said.

"The additional donations from Coles will help ensure Foodbank can bolster its supplies to ensure vulnerable Australians can continue to be assisted."




Australian shipping steps up to help bushfire-hit areas

AUSTRALIAN shipping is playing an important role in the relief effort following the devastating bushfires in NSW and Victoria.

Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin said the crew of the Norwegian-flagged Far Saracen supply vessel was tasked by the Victorian Emergency Co-ordinator to deliver much needed relief supplies to 4,000 people stranded by bushfires in the Victorian town of Mallacoota.

“Australian and Kiwi seafarers were the first on the scene with much needed supplies of food, water and diesel,” Mr Crumlin said.

“While the Federal Government was resisting calls to activate the Australia’s Defence Forces, our seafarers were able to get those supplies to Mallacoota a full 24 hours before the first naval vessel arrived in the area.

“This was an important mission for a ship which is usually engaged in the resupply of off-shore rigs, so they are well versed in the logistics of resupply,” Mr Crumlin said. 

“In this case their efforts not only took the pressure off a population of locals and holiday-makers stranded by the bushfires, but also brought diesel into Mallacoota to power generators and fuel CFA fire trucks.”

Mr Crumlin said the MUA was well aware of the importance of maintaining a sovereign shipping capability while successive governments had failed to appreciate the vital role shipping plays in times of crisis.

“Our MUA seafarers have been the backbone of relief efforts throughout Australia’s history and this was the case in Mallacoota,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The civilian crews of the training vessel MV Sycamore and the supply vessel Far Senator and the Sealink Kangaroo Island Ferries are also doing their bit to back up our fire fighters and bring relief to those stranded and cut off by fire.”

Mr Crumlin said Western Australia was currently cut off from the rest of the country because fire had closed the highway across the Nullarbor and shipping would be needed to maintain supply links until road transport could get through.

“Our island nation’s blue highway is a proven alternative however the lack Australian coastal shipping capacity prevents this from being an option,” Mr Crumlin said.

“At a time of national crisis like the bushfire emergency, the need for an Australian merchant fleet has never been clearer. We were a key part of the relief effort following the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracy and we will back up to assist Australians whenever there is a humanitarian need.

“Merchant seafarers have always been at the forefront of our battles and provided support in times of peace and war and this is a timely reminder that our Australian-flagged shipping remains essential to our national interest.” 


Woolworths ups paid leave policy for its rural fire services volunteers to four weeks

WOOLWORTHS Group has extended paid leave entitlements to four weeks for team members, covered by an Enterprise Agreement (EA), who volunteer for rural fire services.

Previously those covered by an EA who volunteered for rural fire services were entitled to two weeks paid leave. 

Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said salaried team members within the Woolworths Group were already eligible for uncapped paid leave for volunteer rural firefighting duties, subject to approval after four weeks. 

“The ferocity of this year’s bushfire season has been visible to us all, and has tragically taken the life of one of our own team," Mr Banducci said.

“Against the backdrop of our busiest time of the year, a number of our team have been serving as volunteers in rural fire brigades across Australia.  

“In support of their community spirit, and with the inevitability of more challenges in the weeks and months ahead, we have made the decision to extend paid leave entitlements for our EA team members volunteering in the rural fire services.” 

The updated Woolworths Group policy means both EA and salaried team members now have the opportunity to take four weeks paid leave  -- more, subject to approval -- when volunteering for rural fire services. It follows the recent announcement by the Prime Minister that federal public servants would now be able to access 20 working days paid leave in support of volunteer firefighting duties.  

“In addition to our team members who continue to volunteer to battle the many bushfires still burning across the country, our store teams have also played a vital role locally in supporting rural fire service crews," Mr Banducci said.

“We are also proud of our long-standing partnership with The Salvation Army to support the role they play in helping communities recover from the devastating fires. In the past two months, in partnership with our customers, almost $1.3million has been raised to support the Salvos bushfire recovery efforts.”


OzHarvest Brisbane bakes 100 cakes to fund food

BRISBANE’S BEST chefs, bakers and cake makers are all set to create 100 birthday cakes with a difference, to help OzHarvest Brisbane celebrate its eighth birthday and spread some joy to people in need.

The Cakes for a Cause will be donated to local charities that receive OzHarvest food and the cake makers hope to raise $100,000 as each cake can be sponsored by a local business or generous individual.

OzHarvest is inviting Brisbane locals with big hearts to bring joy to charity friends like Rosie’s Brisbane, Inala Youth Service and Caboolture Community Care by sponsoring a cake for $1,000.  

With a goal of 100 cakes, the Cakes for a Cause initiative will allow OzHarvest to deliver 200,000 more meals to people in need over the busy end of year period.

OzHarvest state manager, Amy Cobb said the idea was created as a way of adding purpose to the charity’s birthday celebrations, while raising crucial funds to keep their wheels turning.

Every dollar donated allows two meals to go to someone in need, she said.

“There are still so many people going hungry and simple things many of us take for granted, like having a birthday cake, are not possible for someone who is struggling to put food on the table. OzHarvest Brisbane has one birthday wish and that is for those doing it tough to experience the joy of a beautiful birthday cake.”

“Our bright yellow vans are out and about in the Brisbane community every day, saving good food from going to landfill and delivering it directly to more than 120 local charities who provide essential food relief,” Ms Cobb said.

Any organisation or individual who sponsors a Cake for a Cause will be invited to OzHarvest’s Birthday Party, hosted by founder Ronni Kahn, on November 27 to meet the charities nourished by their gift and celebrate the collective impact of the Brisbane community.

Fundraising is now open and runs until the November 25.

Visit to sponsor a cake for $1000 or to contact OzHarvest Brisbane for the Fundraising Toolkit.


Facing the challenges of aged care with dollars and sense

By Leon Gettler >>

FINDING A FACILITY for an ageing parent is one of the most financially complex challenges facing any family, according to Rod Horin, the managing director of Joseph Palmer & Sons.

The company is a specialist in providing advice on aged care for clients. Mr Horin said the big choice for families was whether the elderly parent stays at home or goes into an aged care facility. Both have enormous cost implications. 

He said most people are choosing to stay at home for longer, but the cost of keeping someone at home – being looked after 24/7 – is about $4000 to $5000 a week, which is about $250,000 a year. On top of that, most carers want to be paid in cash as they have many jobs.

On the other hand, a good aged care facility can be available for $50 a day.

However a bond, or RAD, could be up to $1 million, plus monthly invoices of several thousand dollars.



That is one of the big issues facing families looking for an aged care facility. Do they have to sell the family home to secure accommodation?

“They want to know how they can fund it, so what we do having the benefit of an Australian financial licence is that we can financially model the financial affairs of the aged care resident and see how it could be best funded,” Mr Horin told Talking Business.

“We’ll look at questions like can we fund it without selling the family home? Can we fund it some other way? Can we pay the bond by some different means?

“The bond can be paid the full amount up front or it can be paid part up-front with an interest component in the balance which is set under the Aged Care Act at 5.74 percent.

“What we do is give families clarity and information so that they can work through with us and work out how to get mum or dad in there and how they can fund the monthly invoices for mum and dad staying in there.” 



Another big issue for the firm is handling the investment decisions of senior citizens, who are dependent on income from their investments, when interest rates are falling.

Mr Horin said this is a difficult issue and fraught with danger.

He said we are now seeing the growth of mortgage funds offering high yields of 7-8 percent, high risk and reward deals.

He said those funds were offering high yields to people who cannot get those rates from banks.

“That should sound some alarm bells,” Mr Horin said.

“People’s memories are short. They may not remember some disasters from not that long ago. They are feeling desperate and enjoying eating into their capital. They are not stopping sensibly.”

He said when interest rates were 5 percent, people could get $100,000 off a capital pool of $2 million. When interest rates halve, the capital has to be $4 million and at 1 percent the capital would have to be $10 million.

Mr Horin said most people cannot afford that.

The solution: what people need to do, he said, is start planning their retirement.

When should they start doing that?

“As soon as you enter the workforce,” he said.

Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at 


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