Australia’s co-op sector responds to bushfire tragedy

Sector bodies for co-ops, credit unions and mutuals are urging people to donate and offering support to members

As bushfires continue to devastate huge areas of eastern Australian, the country’s co-op and credit union sectors are rallying support.

The fires have killed at least 23 people and destroyed more than 1,700 homes in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It is estimated that more than 500 million animals have died, and the fires have affected around 5m hectares of land in New South Wales alone.

Sector bodies the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) and Australian Mutual Foundation (AMF) are calling on members to donate to the AMF’s Australian Bushfire Appeal.

The AMF said: “The support from individual members of credit unions and mutuals has been great and we have received donations from members far and wide: Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and all parts of New South Wales, including Bathurst, Orange, the Central Coast and Sydney. Thank you to Unity Bank, G & C Mutual Bank and Move Bank for making corporate donations.”

All donations are being passed to the St Vincent De Paul Society (Vinnies) to help those affected to rebuild their lives.

Vinnies support will include:

  • Providing food, clothing, essential items and grocery vouchers for people who have lost everything
  • Paying unexpected bills as people work through the recovery process
  • Making referrals to specialised organisations providing crisis accommodation
  • Giving emotional support, as well as practical assistance to pick up the pieces after homes are lost

On its website, BCCM said: “Co-ops and mutuals are embedded in local, and often regional communities, and some may be directly impacted by the fires. Many co-ops and mutuals are already leveraging their local connections to support communities to manage during the crisis and to recover and rebound in the aftermath.

Smoke from a bushifre near Tuncurry, New South Wales

“We are a community of enterprises committed to co-operation and mutual support. Throughout this crisis, we will continue to work together to support each other and our community.”

BCCM is asking members to share their own stories of the bushfire crisis, to help it direct support to where it most needed.

And it also calls on members to support other agencies working on the disaster, including the Australian Red Cross, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, the volunteer fire services of New South WalesVictoria and South Australia, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) – which represents 72 financial institutions on the World Council of Credit Unions – said it will help customers s they rebuild their lives and properties.

“Australia’s customer owned banking sector has a long history of supporting its customers and communities in times of need,” said chief executive Michael Lawrence.

“Customer owned banking institutions offer a range of measures to assist customers that are impacted by the bushfires, many of which continue to burn. The bushfires are devastating for individuals and communities. Our thoughts are with those whose properties and lives have been impacted, as well as for the firefighters that are working to protect lives and property.”

Services being provided by credit unions, mutual banks and building societies include delayed loan payments to additional time off for volunteer firefighters.

Credit Union Australia (CUA), the nation’s largest credit union, has pledged AU$150,000 to help contain the fires and protect properties, and has donated $25,000 to the Australian Red Cross.

CEO Paul Lewis said that any employees performing duties as volunteer firefighters or with other brushfire assistance can claim up to four weeks of paid leave.

The credit union also is introducing a special payment plan for team members whose partners are fighting the fires.

“Whether it is a CUA team member on the fire-ground, or their partner, those volunteers should not have to go without pay or dip into their annual leave when they are performing such a vital, and valued, community service,” said Mr Lewis. “While volunteers may not expect to be paid, they deserve to be remunerated for their time and their bravery in dangerous and unpredictable conditions.”

Queensland Country Credit Union is offering similar assistance to those affected, as is the WAW Credit Union – which was forced to temporarily close some sites because of the fires.

This post was amended on 9 January, correcting the figure for the CUA donation to the Australian Red Cross