Australian cooperatives and mutuals step up to support the bushfire affected communities

As the bushfire crisis continues in Australia, ILO COOP hears from the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) on how the cooperatives and mutuals have contributed to recovery efforts for the affected communities.

News | 22 January 2020
Australia’s catastrophic bushfires have been dominating headlines around the world for the past month. These bushfires have been burning in some states since September 2019. The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM)’s initial assessment showed that more than 50 registered cooperatives across different industries are located in the fire-affected regions, including 22 agribusiness-related cooperatives, not including the mutuals also located in these areas. Upon invitation, BCCM participated in a national roundtable to discuss how cooperatives could assist Australian farmers to recover.

The solidarity shown by the international co-operative and mutual community has been heartening. The International Co-operative Alliance, Co-operatives UK, Midcounties Co-op (UK), Southern Co-op (UK), Chelmsford Star Co-op (UK), East of England Co-op, the National Co-operative Business Association (US) are among the overseas cooperative and mutual organisations that got behind the BCCM’s appeal for international contributions to an online donations portal set up to raise funds for impacted cooperatives and their members. Australian Mutuals Foundation continues to run an Australian Bushfire Campaign with funds going to St Vincent de Pauls Society. The Foundation has received funds from the global credit union movement including funds collected from Asian credit unions through the Asian Confederation of Credit Unions.

As the bushfires started to burn, Australian cooperatives and mutuals began organising support for their communities, the victims and the firefighters. These initiatives include:
  • The Ballina Fishermen’s Co-operative, despite having been directly impacted by the fires themselves, with much of members’ fish produce spoiling or degrading as highways were closed with the cargo in tow for Christmas delivery, continued to put its community first. With the co-operative's consent, vessel owners have provided shelter to a number of local residents who used vessels moored in the harbour until it was safe to return to their homes. In addition, the cooperative has been key in helping its community run numerous fundraisers to raise money for bushfire appeals. Meanwhile, the financial impact of the bushfires on their members is still being assessed.
  • Mutuals were the first banks to offer financial relief packages for members affected by the bushfires. This included holding interest payments and assistance in lodging insurance claims. Some mutuals, like Credit Union Australia (CUA), Heritage and Greater Bank announced their packages in September and November 2019 – when fires first started in their communities.
  • Insurance mutuals like HCF, RACQ, RAC WA, RACT and RAA immediately set up hotlines to assist members affected by the fires. They offer 24/7 support lines to members so that claims can be processed promptly.
  • Australian Unity provided wellbeing checks and home care for their home care and disability customers in regions affected by the fires, distributing care packages to displaced residents. Australian Unity continues to assist with recovery.
  • CUA, Australian Unity, HCF, P&N Bank, People’s Choice Credit Union, Bank First, Bank Australia, Australian Mutual Bank, Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative, CBH Group, Go Vita, Macadamia Processing Company, The Barossa Coop, Northern Cooperative Meat Company and Organic and Regenerative Investment Cooperative are among cooperatives and mutuals that initiated fundraisers and contributed money to the bushfire efforts.
  • Several cooperatives and mutuals have been supporting employees whose families are affected by the fires, providing special leave packages. HCF, CUA, Australian Unity have special leave packages for employees who are volunteering to fight the fires.
  • As the fires raged on, other cooperatives used the resources available to them to support bushfire victims. Bus Association Victoria Inc. provides cash support, repairs and replaces vehicles and liaises with regulators to help its members. BCU, a division of P&N Bank, collected and donated food. Staff members helped deliver the donations to areas in need.
Volunteer fire fighters with a local CBH Group grower, in Esperance, Western Australia
As the situation is ongoing and depending on the region or the needs of the community, more initiatives are being introduced daily. The BCCM is encouraging the Government to work with cooperatives in the rebuilding phase to ensure that not only the physical towns are rebuilt, but also the social fabric.

Instructions and online portal for international donations towards impacted cooperatives and their members available here: