BCCM chief says co-ops can solve problems for care and farming sectors

Melina Morrison also repeated her praise for the sector’s response to the bushfires devastating the country

The chief executive of Australia’s national co-op organisation has set out her goals for the year, focusing on issues such as the care sector and reconstruction after the bushfires disaster.

Melina Morrison, from the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, said the movement is gathering momentum and proved its worth when the bushfires broke out. 

“Co-ops and mutuals sprang into action,” she wrote in a piece for non-profit and charity news site Pro Bono Australia. “Despite facing their own challenges dealing with a perishable product, fishing co-ops distributed free ice to stop community member’s food from spoiling and offered emergency shelter to local residents on their moored fishing vessels.

“Rural co-op stores, left without power, took orders and supplied goods to local farmers, businesses and community members on hand-written tabs. Credit unions and mutual banks unveiled financial packages to their members as soon as the fires began … Health mutuals provided wellbeing checks and home care for their members in regions affected by the fires, distributing care packages to displaced residents.”

She warned that the effects of the disaster will last for years, adding that as communities rebuild, “co-ops will be there … The co-op model has a lot to offer to impacted communities that have come together to weather the emergency and now need to rebuild their physical assets and economies in a manner that strengthens the social fabric.”

The bushfires have added to pressure on farmers, added Ms Morrison, with challenges over retailer competition, drought and farmgate prices, but co-ops have bipartisan support in parliament and the government is working with BCCM to ensure more farmers have the tools and information they need to co-operate.

She said there were other issues facing Australia which would benefit from co-operative action, including the shortage of carers in the country. Critics of the National Disability Insurance Scheme say its payments aren’t enough to sustain viable care businesses, but co-ops have still managed to succeed, through a focus on service and member ownership.

Related: Australia’s credit unions and farm co-ops face bushfire challenges

“Having been in operation for a few years,” wrote Ms Morrison, “these member-owned models reported that staff members and patients were satisfied with the care and the work they were doing and their workforces are growing. 

“Aged care workers within the employee-owned co-operative model are able to take ownership of service quality and still draw a fair wage. This will be essential in attracting and keeping workers in this key sector going forward.”

Meanwhile, this year sees the launch of a framework for measuring the value created by co-ops and mutuals.

“BCCM was behind ground-breaking research by accounting academics from Monash University titled Mutual Value Measurement that resulted in an industry inspired mutual accounting system designed especially for co-ops and mutuals,” said Ms Morrison.

“Coming at the right time when customers and consumers are clamouring for reliable information about the social impact of corporations on their communities, co-ops and mutuals have a unique opportunity to show how much positive value they create beyond the usual measurements of financial performance and profitability.”

She added: “There is still much more work to do and we will continue to raise the profile of and advocate for our sector among policymakers and the community.

“Co-operative businesses have demonstrated that they are the stewards of community spirit in business. They help to make economies stronger and communities more resilient.”