Today’s report that a Weekly Times investigation found only eight of Australia’s 35 most iconic food brands are Australian owned, demonstrates a concerning trend that has real implications for Australia’s economic recovery and long-term stability. The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals has released Co-operative Farming: Blueprint for future proofing Aussie farmers, a clear way forward to protect and grow Australian owned food businesses.

BCCM CEO Melina Morrison said all the businesses were at some point Australian owned, beginning as either family owned businesses or co-operatives. 

“Australia’s food-based businesses will always be attractive to international private equity investment, the challenge has been finding investment solutions that allow these businesses to scale up while keeping Australian farming and production Australian owned,” Morrison said.

“This is not a problem solely for the owners of these businesses, or even just their communities, but for the Australian economy as a whole. We need strong and stable medium-sized businesses to pave the way for economic recovery and future growth. The loss of these Australian brands is indicative of how hard that has been to achieve in the past.

“Recent decisions by multi-nationals to close Australian-based operations are a demonstration of our vulnerability when we rely too heavily on offshore investors and owners. Businesses at the heart of their communities, keep the community close to their heart. Their decisions are aligned with community interests. 

“With the support of Australia’s agricultural co-operative leaders, BCCM have developed the Co-operative Farming project. The project is designed to support farmers, fishers and foresters through the formation of new farming co-operatives.

“Thanks to changes to the Corporations Act passed in 2019, co-operatives are now able to raise funds externally without demutualising, ensuring that co-ops operate on a level playing field with private equity and other forms of investment, whilst maintaining Australian ownership. 

“These changes and the support of the Co-operative Farming project mean that returns go to the co-operative members. Profits stay local and support communities are the Australian economy, not the bottom line of a multinational.

“While we await the detailed actions of the Federal Government’s forthcoming Advanced Manufacturing Plan, we also need a plan for Australian scaling and ownership to ensure that maximum value is leveraged from this significant investment.

“What is not understood is that co-operatives facilitate business clusters of small and medium enterprises so that hardworking Australian entrepreneurs can scale up and invest in a global business without trading their homegrown business roots.

Morrison said the Government’s commentary regarding integration of businesses and collaborative working practices, is recognition that scaling is required in order to realise their business-led recovery objectives.

“Australian co-operatives are major exporters of high-quality produce and key players in Australia’s regional economy. Often the main employer in town, they provide quality long term jobs as well as seasonal work,” Morrison said.

“Co-operatives already handle and store 40 per cent of Australia’s grain; package and export 40 percent of our blueberries and process and market 60 per cent of our almonds.

“COVID-19 has helped Australians to understand where their food comes from and to focus on building this connection. COVID-19 has helped us all to see the danger in supply chain vulnerabilities and the reacquaint our nation with the idea of sovereign capacity. This understanding, coupled with the right support for Australian owned businesses, can be the lever to turn the drain of Australian owned brands around.

“The Co-operative Farming Blueprint ensures that all those Australian farmers and producers looking for information or to take the next steps in establishing a co-operative are able to do so in an informed and guided manner.”

The Co-operative Farming blueprint was supported by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment

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