Annual Q&A: Melina Morrison, CEO, Australia’s Business Council of Co-ops and Mutuals

‘What I want to see is the full uptake of our climate policy across Australian co-ops and mutuals, shining a light on us as leading ESG businesses’

How was 2022 for co-ops and mutuals in Australia?

Quick facts and highlights:

• There are 1,832 active co-operative and mutual enterprises (CMEs) in Australia, with a combined active membership of more than 31.7 million
• Australia’s CMEs have a combined turnover of more than AU$203bn (including superannuation funds) or $34bn without pension funds
• The CMEs directly employ at least 76,000 people
• Australia’s CMEs combined have more than $1.28tn in gross assets; the top 100 CMEs have seen a 7.9% average annual growth rate in assets and a 5.2% average annual growth rate in turnover over five years.

In Australia, 2022 has been a year of rebuilding after 2020–21. The Covid-19 lockdown has been largely lifted and Australians are settling into a new normal. But co-ops and mutuals are not immune from inflationary pressures felt around the world and have had to cope with rising costs. This has been reflected in some sectors such as co-operative banking seeing a downturn in reported profits. However, overall assets have increased which shows that as a whole there has been growth.

There have been several notable mergers of mutual banks (credit unions) and health funds; these CMEs have responded to the challenges of needing to scale to remain competitive through mutually aligned mergers.
Australia relies heavily on trade relationships and effective export pathways, which have been dramatically impacted by geopolitical shifts and rising energy costs. Some agricultural co-ops have been impacted but overall the sector remains profitable.

Energy costs have skyrocketed, especially gas, which has impacted advanced manufacturing co-ops. The BCCM has been advocating for government cost relief for members impacted by supply chain and energy costs to ensure that manufacturing co-operatives can keep operating to support their members and the communities in which they operate.

While 2019 and 2020 were characterised by catastrophic bushfires, climate change has in 2022 delivered devastating floods, continuing even in November. The clean-up and impacts remain ongoing, with Norco and other co-ops in the Northern Rivers region of NSW particularly affected. We were very proud of the effort of the sector to support funding back to communities, such as the Australian Mutuals Foundation Flood Appeal, which raised over $210,000.

What would you like to see in 2023?

What I want to see is the full uptake of our climate policy across Australian co-ops and mutuals, shining a light on us as leading ESG businesses.

We are also looking forward to working with communities on fairer and more ethical models of delivering care through a government funded co-operative and mutual enterprise support programme.

Related: BCCM calls for fresh action on climate change

Australia is finally undergoing important constitutional reforms to embed an Indigenous voice in parliament. I look forward to working with members and the wider sector to support this through our own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

The potential for co-operatives to provide Australians with affordable housing is going to be significant in 2023 – the government and community members are finally taking notice of these tried and tested models

Lastly, I’m excited that the BCCM will be helping 10 early-stage co-ops through the Bunya Fund, covering areas such as renewable energy, arts and culture, and Indigenous enterprise. We launched The Bunya Fund, which is Australia’s first co-operative development fund, in June this year.