New co-op laws level the playing field for sector in the shadows

02 March 2014

The Business Council for Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) said the launch of the Co-operatives National Law (CNL) on Monday 3 March was a watershed day for Australia’s most under-recognised business sector.

Read NSW Fair Trading Media Release: NSW and Victoria lead the way in co-op reform, 28 Feb

“Eight in ten Australians is a member of a co-operative or mutually owned business including household brands like NRMA Motoring and Services, HCF, Australian Unity and Australia’s largest member-owned retailer, The Co-op. The level of awareness of co-ops and mutuals and their importance to the economy is much lower,” said Melina Morrison, CEO of the BCCM.

“Co-ops and mutuals use a variety of legal structures. Many do choose to set up under state-based co-operative legislation but they have had to deal with a fragmented regulatory system.”

“The new Co-operatives National Law which commences in NSW and Victoria on 3 March will reduce regulatory costs and simplify financial reporting. As well, the burden of having to register in multiple jurisdictions in order to do business across state and territory borders, will be removed.”

“Businesses set up under companies law have not needed to worry about the cross state trading issue. It is ‘crazy’ and ‘anachronistic’ that co-operatives have had to deal with this commercial constraint.”

Despite the legislative challenges, “Co-operatives are thriving,” said Ms Morrison.

“Co-operatives and mutuals are the ‘quiet achievers’ in the Australian economy. There are over 1700 registered co-operatives in Australia. The ten largest agricultural co-operatives contribute around $7b to the wellbeing of rural and regional communities in Australia and consumer demand is encouraging the growth of new co-operatives in areas such as organic food, renewable energy and aged and healthcare.

All states and territories agreed to the new laws when they signed up to the Australian Uniform Co-operative Laws Agreement, with the final jurisdiction signing in February 2012. The remaining jurisdictions are also working on introducing the new laws in their state or territory.

“We encourage the remaining jurisdictions to introduce the new laws in their state or territory as soon as possible to level the playing field for co-operative businesses, so they can focus just like any business, on their operational goals and growing markets.”


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