BCCM chief gives evidence to Australian Senate on value of co-op sector

Melina Morrison wants legislation on the National Reconstruction Fund to put co-ops on equal footing when it comes to investment

Melina Morrison, CEO of Australia’s Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), has urged policymakers to ensure forthcoming business legislation puts co-ops on an equal footing when it comes to investment.

Morrison had been invited to give evidence to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, in response to the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Corporation Bill 2022.

The NRF is a $15bn programme which will provide loans, guarantees and equity, in the hope of supporting projects that create secure well-paid jobs, drive regional development, and invest in national sovereign capability, broadening and diversifying Australia’s economy.

It is the first stage in a bid by the national government to rebuild the country’s industrial base after a spate of natural disasters at home and global disruptions, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bill covers a number of sectors where BCCM’s 100 member organisations are active, including agriculture and fisheries, advanced manufacturing and circular economy,  renewable energy, transport and mobility, defence, critical minerals and medical science.

BCCM says the NRF represents an important opportunity to boost Australian manufacturing and supply chain resilience across these sectors and to move to a serious partnership model between purpose-led businesses, government and Australian workers.

Co-ops and mutuals deliver value to the economy in a number of ways, said Morrison, who argued that they:

  • are long-term investors in domestic manufacturing because their members are local
  • increase the resilience of Australia’s SMEs in a range of industries by helping them reduce input costs, access markets and share in profits from value-adding activities such as manufacturing
  • are domestically owned and pay taxes domestically
  • earn vital export income for Australia
  • generate quality employment across regional and metropolitan Australia
  • enhance the function of markets by being the consumer and small business focused challengers

“Public investment in co-operatives and mutuals will support these outcomes,” she told the committee, “and will also act to accelerate the maturation of markets for member, community and private investment in co-operatives and mutuals, addressing historical constraints on the growth of co-ops and mutuals.

“The BCCM welcomed the government’s election commitment to ensure the NRF will be able to invest in co-ops and mutuals, incIuding through co-operative capital units and mutual capital instruments. Our submission is focused on providing feedback on how the Bill can be designed to be enable the NRF to achieve this.”

Morrison stressed the importance of one of the BCCM recommendations, “which is that the equity interest definition in the bill is amended to expressly allow for investment in co-operative capital units.

“We think this amendment would ensure co-operatives will be on an equal footing in relation to the National Reconstruction Fund.”