Australia: Co-operatives National Law set for approval in 2012

Australia's co-operative movement joins the worldwide co-operative movement in recognising that the International Year of Co-operatives is a unique opportunity to celebrate and promote the co-operative idea and...

Australia's co-operative movement joins the worldwide co-operative movement in recognising that the International Year of Co-operatives is a unique opportunity to celebrate and promote the co-operative idea and opportunity within and outside the movement.

It is a challenge that while a significant number of co-operatives who recognise the significance of IYC 2012 there are others who have yet to engage with 2012.

For over ten years Co-operative Federations throughout Australia have been advocating the establishment of national co-operative legislation. Finally, it looks as if 2012 will be the year that Co-operatives National Law will be introduced in the State of New South Wales and subsequently adopted by other States and Territories. Western Australia already has legislation that will conform with Co-operatives National Law. The legislation will not only harmonise regulation of co-operatives but also reduce the regulatory burden for all co-operatives — particularly small co-operatives.

Australia has achieved much already in preparation for the International Year, despite a disparate co-operative movement that has suffered from the demutualisation of major co-operatives and mutuals over recent decades. The major impetus for this has been the former CEO of Capricorn Society in WA, Trent Bartlett, and the willingness of Capricorn to provide substantial funds for IYC 2012. Australia was the first country to establish a National IYC Committee.

Together the IYC Secretariat and the IYC National Committee have persuaded the Australian Mint to produce an IYC Collectible Coin — the first do do so — and Australia Post will also be releasing pre-paid envelopes (Catalogue Number 1514725) and a Souvenir Stamp Sheet featuring pictures of Australian co-operatives (Catalogue No 1514724). The Australian Bureau of Statistics Year Book in 2012 will also feature co-operatives. There will also be a national conference late in 2012 which reflect on IYC 2012 and how the co-operative movement in Australia will be able to move 'Beyond 2012'.

In other IYC initiatives, Tasmanian co-operatives are organising their own conference and housing co-operative CEHL will be organising a national housing conference on 8th March and the conference will also be sponsored by the South East Housing Co-operative Ltd (SEHC). SEHC has also commissioned a documentary and advertorial for IYC 2012. These will be available from late February 2012.

In an other initiative, a Co-operative Start Up Manual originally published by Co-operatives Victoria will have a new lease of life when it will be updated for 2012 with a national focus. The lead agency will be Regional Development Australia Mid North Coast NSW with the following Supporting Partners — Co-operatives WA, Co-operatives Victoria, Co-operative Federation of NSW and thye IYC National Committee. Individual Federations are planning programs for their States e.g. Co-operatives WA. Co-operatives Victoria is bringing out the Principal and Chief Executive officer of the UK Co-operative College, Mervyn Wilson, to Australia in March 2012.

In education, Co-operatives Victoria has worked for some years now with the Co-operative College UK to bring co-operative education to Australia. There is no equivalent college in Australia and co-operatives have for years been dependent on otherwise technical experts but who do not have a deep experience and understanding of co-operative values and principles.

It has been a challenge with some co-operatives taking the opportunity to learn from the UK's Co-operative College. But, there is an ongoing challenge to convince co-operatives that co-operative education is an ongoing need for co-operative directors, staff and members if co-operative values and principles are to be integrated within business practice. This has been most successfully incorporated by the Capricorn Society in Western Australia. It is hoped that in 2012 the significance of co-operative education will be better understood and implemented. It is hoped that Mervyn Wilson's visit in March will facilitate this understanding and implementation.

For three years now Co-operatives Australia has published a list of Australia's top 100 co-operatives, credit unions and mutuals ranked by turnover. The third list published in April 2011 was enhanced by membership and employee numbers. That list included the top ten with the most members, the top ten with the most employees and the turnover of the top 100 by States and industry. For 2012 it is hoped that an expanded list with the context of a co-operative economy will be issued.

This year will also be a year for co-operatives, credit unions and mutuals to address the need for effective national representation. A Summit organised by the IYC National Committee considered the establishment of a Social Business Council — as an alternative to the Business Council of Australia which represents investor-owned companies. Co-operatives Australia will also be examining its own effectiveness. By the end of 2012 it is hoped that there will be more effective national representation which all governments and parties recognise as a legitimate representative forum.

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