As Australia prepares to go to the polls on 18 May, the country’s Labor Party has pledged to establish a Growth and Productivity Taskforce.
Announced on 2 May by shadow assistant minister Andrew Leigh, the taskforce will work to examine the structure, distribution and effects of capital ownership in Australia. It would sit within the Treasury and have an explicit remit to implement reforms to put co-operatives and mutuals on a level playing field with other business structures.
“Co-operatives are a flexible structure with the potential to not only create economic value, but also to foster community,” said Mr Leigh.
“There is also some evidence that employees in worker-owned firms are more productive and more satisfied, and that such firms have less turnover and enjoy greater staff loyalty. There are over 2,000 co-operatives or mutuals in Australia, employing nearly 150,000 people. Four out of five Australians are members.”
The Australian Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals welcomed the announcement. Chief executive Melina Morrison said: “The taskforce will be immediately tasked with implementing the remaining recommendations from the Senate Inquiry into Co-operatives and Mutuals, which primarily involves giving recognition to co-ops as a viable business model.
“This will ensure that states and territories as well as federal jurisdictions work together to ensure regulation of co-operatives is consistent and enabling.”
She added: “Since the last general election our sector has enjoyed new and welcome bi-partisan political support at a federal level. Our sector has benefitted from the first new legislation in two decades, which is a great start in levelling the playing field for co-operatives and mutuals.
“These reforms build on the sector roadmap for reform, the Blueprint for an Enterprising Nation, which was first released by the BCCM in 2014.
“However, there is still much to be done to lower the barriers to growth and competition for member-owned firms. The taskforce proposal puts a long overdue policy focus on the importance of business diversity to a healthy and balanced economy.
“By creating strategies for business diversity with companies that take a longer-term view, government has the opportunity to help build an economy and society that works in the interest of the widest number of people.”
The BCCM’s three-point plan, outlined in its Federal Election Policy, calls for all political parties to recognise and support the value of diverse forms of enterprise in the Australian economy.
“Today, Labor has demonstrated that it understands that policy, legislative and regulatory actions can help co-ops and mutuals fulfil their potential and in turn deliver a wide range of public policy objectives,” said Ms Morrison.
“The BCCM and our members would welcome the opportunity to work with government to promote business plurality and lower barriers to growth and competition for co-ops and mutuals.
“Rediscovering this transparent, member-owned business model can provide Australia with a model and a road map in an era in which we are all demanding more accountability of our institutions.”
The Labor Party has not been in government since 2010, when it formed minority government with the support of 3 independents and 1 Green under Julia Gillard. Polls predict the party will win the elections on 19 May.