Eight in every ten Australians are members of a co-operatively owned, or mutually owned, business but despite this widespread membership, community awareness of the sector runs far behind.
This is a key finding of ground-breaking research on the size and scope of the Australian co-operative sector, which will be handed down at Building a Better Australia – the national co-operatives conference in Port Macquarie today.
‘Overdue research for the co-operative sector, which includes co-operatively or mutually owned businesses – like farmer-owned co-ops, Murray Goulburn and Co-operative Bulk Handling; roadside assistance organisations, NRMA and RACV; member-owned superannuation funds, credit unions and customer-owned banks such as Bankmecu; and consumer co-operatives like The Co-op Bookshop – is just one of several important outcomes of the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives (IYC),’ said Greg Wall, chair of Australia’s Secretariat for the International Year.
‘Another important outcome we will announce at the conference is formation of a peak body to promote the co-operative and mutual business model in the national economy. There is the Business Council of Australia, but there is no council at this national level representing co-operative businesses that have a different structure to investor-ownership.
‘The national conference this week is the opportunity to reflect on our achievements as a sector in this UN year focused on our trusted and ethical model of business. Raising the level of public awareness of the important role of co-operative businesses to Australia’s social and economic development has been the main challenge for Australia’s committee for the UN year. All of our projects this year have focused on this,’ said Wall.
‘There are many co-operatives including credit unions and mutuals operating in Australia – nearly 1800 – and the top 100 of these alone had turnover of $17 billion on 2011. We are bringing more that 200 delegates and 60 speakers together this week to make sure that we continue to get the word out about the positive role of co-operatives beyond the end of the International Year,’ said Melina Morrison, director of the IYC Secretariat and Social Business Australia.
The launch of a commemorative yearbook with 50 business case studies, Australia’s first national leadership awards for co-operative businesses presented by chef Maggie Beer, a youth summit and a co-operative film festival are highlights of the conference.