Published: 03 December 2012
Extracted chapter from Griffiths, David (Ed.) Co-operators - Co-operation and Co-operatives, Southeast Housing Co-operative Ltd, 2012, pp 80-81.
In the early 1970s I was employed by FleetXpress Pty Ltd, as Fleet controller of their taxi truck division, and drove Silver Top taxis part time.
I became (Honorary) Secretary of the Taxi Industry Credit Union, and expanded it into becoming the road transport industry credit union. In 1977 Waverley Credit Union in Glen Waverley appointed me their Development Officer, replacing Bill Doyle who went next door as Manager of Waverley Trading Co-op.
It was a most interesting job, the main part of which was introducing Credit Union services into a number of large companies who were the major employers in the area. Most of my lunch breaks were spent in factory canteens explaining to staff what membership of the Credit Union offered them. In those days Australian banks were not interested in making personal loans to workers, and credit co-operatives were the only alternative to shysters.
Around 1980 I was appointed Credit Controller and Company Secretary, and continued in those roles until 1984. In the following year I managed the Footscray and Werribee branches of Western Credit Union and Telecom Credit Union during the process of the first merger between a Community Credit Union and an Industrial Credit Union. The telecom Credit Union eventually evolved into Credit Union Australia (CUA). CUA is Australia’s largest credit union with more than 380,000 members. I then worked as a Consultant for Burwood and Knox Community Credit Unions before moving to the Police Association Credit Union as Credit Control Supervisor.
After being sacked because I didn’t get on with the Managing Director, I decided to have a rest from the Credit Union scene, as mergers were reducing the number of management positions available. Most of the Credit Co-operatives I worked for are now part of bankmecu! The credit union MECU became bankmecu on 1 September 2011 with assets exceeding $2.6 billion and $287 million in capital. It has 125,000 customers and 348 staff.
I bought a Chevrolet heavy truck, and became an owner-driver in the road transport industry. After 11 years I was suffering many bouts of bronchitis, and my GP suggested that a change to a warmer and drier climate might be beneficial, so I ‘retired’.
My late wife, Elizabeth, and I started looking around for a suitable place to relocate and in the Spring of 1997 moved to Avoca, which in earlier years had three banks, but the last of them was showing signs of intention to close. My retirement was short-lived! I became involved with a local Steering Committee planning a community bank branch of Bendigo Bank. Part of my shed became the Registered Office of the Avoca District Co-operative Ltd and I became Secretary of the Co-op.
Almost fourteen years later the Avoca Co-op Board has decided on a succession plan, and I am now training a new Company Secretary to assist with running what has become a large and successful business, servicing Avoca, Maryborough and St Arnaud. The Avoca District Co-operative has 206 members, 11 staff and $1.1 million annual turnover.
Avoca was the sixth Community Bank branch in Australia, and there are now almost 300; but Avoca is the ONLY Bendigo franchise owned by a Co-operative. The remainder are all Companies, with a number of co-operative principles written into their constitutions; i.e. one member, one vote, a relatively small maximum shareholding by any individual or entity, a limitation on dividends, and encouragement to distribute a significant proportion of profits to worthy local community organisations. They could well therefore be regarded as co-operatives/mutuals; with the exception of the small number of community bank companies, which have chosen to list on the Bendigo Stock Exchange.
When the Avoca Co-op joined the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Limited I was persuaded to join the Federation Board, and became Chairman. Following more than a decade as Chairman I have realised that at 75 years of age I am now lacking the energy, stamina and enthusiasm necessary to properly perform this role, so have resigned. I will remain on the Board if they want me, to assist with the transition to a new Chairman.
A major disappointment has been the inability of most Australian Co-operatives to grasp the necessity of embracing the fifth and sixth of the seven co-operative principles which have governed our activities since 1844. The lack of co-operative education, and co-operation between co-operatives, are the main reasons for the co-operative form of corporate entity being less well known and understood and implemented in Australia than in most other parts of the world. To understand this phenomenon one needs to read The Democracy Principle by Gary Lewis, available online at: www.victoria.coop/index.php/articles/publications/481-democracy, which highlights the sad procession of attempts over the past century to establish an effective national peak body for the sector. I hope to live long enough to see this problem overcome as a legacy of IYC 2012.
The most important task for this new National Peak Body, by whatever name, will be to popularise the introduction of intensive co-operative training at every level of every co-operative: board, management, staff, member/owners and their families. This training must emphasise the differences in thinking and attitudes which exist between co-operatives and investor-owned corporations. Without proper attention to such training, the future of co-operatives in Australia looks bleak indeed.
With such training, we can emulate the experiences of other countries where most business activity is carried out by co-operatives, and other forms of corporate entity pick up the crumbs!!