2019 Q&A: Melina Morrison on Australia

Chief executive of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM)

 How has 2019 been for co-ops in Australia?

 2019 has been a very satisfying year for co-ops and mutuals here. BCCM members came together as a collective only six years ago and asked for better recognition and a level playing field. Simultaneously, successive Australian government inquiries have highlighted a corporate sector that has put profits before people. This has reinforced the need for consumer choice and business model diversity across many industries including banking, financial services, agriculture and healthcare.

In particular, CMEs have asked for changes to legislation that would allow co-ops and mutuals to raise capital in order to compete on a level playing field with listed companies. This was achieved in 2019 with Australian government reforms that mean CMEs now have the ability to access growth capital without compromising the mutual ethos of our businesses. 

As part of the legislative reforms BCCM welcomed the introduction of a legal definition of mutual entities to the Corporations Act. This formally recognises mutuals as a legitimate business model in a highly competitive sector.

What other changes have you witnessed?

In November the Australian agriculture minister, Bridget McKenzie announced the allocation of AU $2.5m for BCCM to use to support the farming sector. The money will be used to help farmers establish co-operatives and other collaborative business models, fund training and education on co-operative business models, set up an advisory hotline and help us deliver information sessions, workshops and  educational material.

And in December, 20 mutuals were selected as approved non-major lenders by the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to offer mortgages under the federal government’s First Home Loan Deposit Scheme (FHLDS) and help more Australians into home ownership. We are pleased that 15 of the 20 non-bank lenders are members of BCCM.

2019 also saw us launch training to support a set of common governance principles for CMEs and work with members to develop a methodology for measuring the value created by CMEs. This Mutual Value Measurement (MVM) Framework measures the holistic value created by CMEs in their communities and makes it possible for the CME sector to articulate its collective value through a set of common dimensions and shared language about measuring and reporting mutual value.

 What are your hopes for 2020?

 Heading into the new year, BCCM remains focused on policy reform for CMEs and hopes that government will make a better operating environment for CMEs, a priority this year. 

BCCM also continues to push for the inclusion of co-operatives in the red-tape busting Commonwealth Modernising Business Registers program. Amendments to a Bill currently in Parliament would allow states and territories to delegate administrative functions for state-registered co-operatives to the proposed Commonwealth Registrar.

With over 2000 Australian co-operative and mutual businesses as members, we are confident in achieving this if we stick together and work as a collective movement. Together we have already achieved so much.