Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History
Today the mutual banking industry has the Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) as its peak body to look after its collective interests in matters that are best served in such a fashion – matters of regulation being but one example, overall industry promotion being another.
Before COBA, the Credit Union Industry Association (CUIA) was the national association for credit unions in Australia. The first national peak body for credit unions in Australia was the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL). The most detailed item in our collection illuminating the history of AFCUL would be better described as a work outlining the formation of AFCUL. The document I refer to is “The History of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues”, compiled by J. H. (Jack) Ross in 1966, the same year that AFCUL begun operations. Mr Ross was the initial Vice President of AFCUL and was given the role of Official Historian and one of his tasks was to prepare the history of its formation.
The first serious talk of an Australia wide association of credit unions occurred in 1965 during the running of the first Australia-wide credit union school administered by the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) in conjunction with CUNA Mutual, the international credit union body based in the United States. It was during the running of the credit union school in 1965 that the man who would eventually go on to be the first leader of AFCUL, Stan Arneil, would lecture on the importance of a Federal Credit Union Act and also the need for the state leagues to be affiliated with CUNA.
Mr Arneil was quoted as saying of the school in 1965 that, “the idea of Federation seemed to catch the imagination of all present in particular the imagination of those members from Queensland (Messrs. Merv Callaghan, Don Cottrell and Ron Gerhard) as well as that of the NSW President, Brian Calverley. The matter was discussed frequently during the remainder of the school and it was agreed that a Federation must be formed as quickly as possible”.
The Queensland and NSW Leagues took the ball and ran with it and submitted draft constitutions for a national association to their boards for consideration. Things moved quickly from there, after draft constitutions for a national body were presented to the Queensland and NSW Leagues in April 1966, the Inaugural Conference of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues was held just a month later on the 7th May 1966 in Sydney.
The inaugural AFCUL President Stan Arneil prepared a ‘Proclamation’ for the founding Directors to sign, which they did during the inaugural conference. The signed Proclamation appears below and it is interesting that it states that “the affiliated credit union leagues of NSW and Queensland do hereby form the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues”. Jack Ross addresses the lack of representation of other states in his history. He notes that it was generally thought in the movement that concerns of the credit union industry as a whole in Australia were too great and too urgent to wait for all states and territories to form state bodies before a national association formed and affiliated with CUNA.
A postscript to “The History of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues” was added in 1973 which lists 20 points of significance in the short life of AFCUL and the credit union movement more broadly. These include AFCUL successfully negotiating to have stamp duty for credit unions abolished at the state level. AFCUL’s work in assisting many credit unions in establishing the ability to make payroll deductions for members, is also listed as an early win.
In January 1992 the functions of AFCUL and its subsidiary bodies were centralised in the Credit Union Services Corporation (Australia) Limited (CUSCAL). CUIA was formed out of CUSCAL in 2004 and in 2006 CUIA merged with the Australian Association of Permanent Building Societies (AAPBS) to form Abacus Australian Mutuals. Abacus was renamed COBA in 2013.