Co-op movement responds to Australian bushfire crisis

Co-ops and their members affected by the crisis can be supported through the Australian Mutual Foundation appeal

Co-ops in Australia and around the world have stepped up their response to the bushfires devastating the country.

Co-ops and mutuals in Australia are continuing to offer financial support to affected members, and extended leave to staff volunteering as firefighters, while apex body the Business Council for Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) has thrown its weight behind a the Australian Mutuals Foundation (AMF) bushfire appeal. Co-operatives UK, which represents the UK co-op sector, has now announced it is partnering with BCCM on the appeal.

BCCM said it has been “heartened by the solidarity shown by the international co-operative movement with Australian co-operatives and their local communities impacted by the fires”.

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “It’s tough to imagine just how distressing this period is for many people in Australia. Going forward it will be hard for those affected to rebuild their lives and their homes. We hope, by standing together with the Australian co-op sector, we can help play a role in supporting relief efforts and future reconstruction.”

Co-operatives UK members – and other supporters of the co-op movement around the world – who want to help can donate to the AMF appeal here.

  • Donations can be made by credit card
  • When making your donation, under the Member of menu item please identify your organisation by selecting the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals
  • If you wish to donate using a SWIFT code please email BCCM chief operating officer, Reece Kinnane ([email protected]).

BCCM says co-ops or their members should email Reece Kinnane when they make a donation, so they can be updated on the impact of their donation.

It has also listed other organisations working on the bushfire crisis for donation, and given support that Australian co-ops and mutuals are providing to communities, on a dedicated page on its website.

It says Credit Union Australia has donated AU$150,000 to rural fire services.

The National Roads and Motorists’ Association mutual is encouraging members to donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service, the Red Cross or the RSPCA.

Another mutual, the Royal Automobile Club Queensland, has a standing process for Queenslanders to apply for support after natural disasters.

Rabobank, which provides co-op banking to Australia’s farm industry, has announced supports for its clients affected by bushfires. Measures include deferral of scheduled loan payments, and waivers of fees on early redemption of farm management deposits, loan increases for rebuilding operations and equipment finance variations.

Rabobank Australia CEO Peter Knoblanche said: “Unprecedented fire activity has impacted a significant number of communities across the country, with loss and damage to agricultural land, livestock, houses and infrastructure and most tragically, lives.

“Although it is still too early to assess the full extent of the damage, the impact of the fires on farming businesses has been compounded by ongoing drought with many holding very limited reserves of feed, fodder and water.” 

The farmer members of the Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative are being supported by volunteers and have raised over $20,000 through their appeal to support impacted organic farmers across Australia with emergency organic fodder and for farm rebuilding in the recovery period.

Australian Unity mutual has made a $100,000 donation to Australian Red Cross to assist relief and recovery efforts and will also match dollar-for-dollar any contributions its 7,000-plus employees make to Red Cross and a number of organisations supporting wildlife and the environment. Australian Unity has also introduced measures to financially support members, customers and employees affected by the fires.

It is also carrying out wellbeing checks on home care and disability customers in affected areas, distributing care packages to displaced Aboriginal Home Care customers, sending emergency relief packages to employees affecting by the fires, and special leave arrangements for employees who are emergency volunteers or defence reservists.

Insurance mutual HCF has donated $20,000 to the Red Cross and $30,000 to the Royal Fire Service and is giving employees whose families are affected by the fires, special leave.  HCF members suffering financial hardship are being offered a suspension of their membership fees for one to six months depending on their circumstances. For health insurance members, the group is offering up to three months free premiums.

Credit Union Australia (CUA) has donated $50,000 each to the New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian fire services. These donations follow a $25,000 contribution from CUA to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund in early December, to help volunteers continue to support communities impacted by the bushfire crisis. 

CUA is helping members affected by the fires by waiving fees and repayments and supporting staff members who are performing duties as volunteer firefighters or emergency services directly involved in the bushfire response. 

The credit union is also introducing a new payment for team members with a partner who has been undertaking volunteer firefighting efforts in recent weeks, where their partner is not already receiving paid emergency services leave from their own employer or the government.

Bus Association Victoria is offering helping members affected by the bushfires – including cash support, repairing and replacing vehicles, and liaising with the regulator over vehicle inspection dates and pricing.

The Geraldton Fishermens’ Co-operative has allocated funds from its Christmas fund for the bushfire appeal and has called out to its members to donate to the cause from their fishing payments.

Go Vita has over 140, member-owned stores Australia wide. Many are located in small regional communities that have been impacted by the bushfires and some members including stores in Tenterfield and Bateman’s Bay have been affected. Go Vita, on behalf of store owners, has pledged at least $500 per day for January to support those affected, contributing to both the Red Cross and Wires. Go Vita is working with health product suppliers to further assist impacted communities.

The orchards of three member growers of the Lenswood Apples – Lenswood Cold Stores Co-Operative Society Limited have been affected by the bushfires in the Adelaide Hills and the co-op is assessing its response.