Who Knew Australians Were So Co-operative?
25 October 2012 at 10:45 am
Despite eight in every ten Australians belonging to a co-op or mutual organisation such as the NRMA or AustralianSuper, only 16% even realise it or understand the community advantages, according to a new paper by national think tank, The Australia Institute.
Described as the first analysis of its kind, The Australia Institute has mapped the size and scope of mutually owned co-ops in Australia. Who knew Australians were so co-operative? reveals 13.5 million Australians are members of these organisations across sectors such as finance, health, insurance and agriculture.
But the co-operative and mutual sector is very poor at promoting itself and its advantages.
Co-operatively and mutually owned enterprises typically invest the surplus they generate into the community or return it to their members. As such, the report says these organisations spend far less money advertising the contribution they make to the community and therefore there is far lower awareness of this contribution.
The Australia Institute's Executive Director Dr Richard Denniss says the low level of membership awareness, however, reveals a need for the co-operatives and mutuals sector to build a stronger public and policy-maker awareness of their current economic importance and its potential policy significance.
The report finds that while millions of Australians clearly understand the financial benefits of being a member of a co-op or mutually owned organisation such as the NRMA, the Co-op Bookshop, a credit union or industry super fund, the vast majority of these people do not realise they are not just customers, but members of these organisations.
“It seems ironic that while many Australians have expressed a desire for 'an alternative' to the high profits and high salaries associated with bad behaviour of big business, most of those doing so are likely to have been members of such an alternative,” Dr Denniss said.
“While co-ops and mutuals have clearly been effective in delivering high quality products at low prices our report suggests they have not done a great job of explaining to their members how they do it and why it matters," concluded Dr Denniss.
The report recommends co-ops and mutuals should:
1) Better explain their ownership structure, and its benefits, to their existing customers.
2) Better explain the contribution that mutuals and co-ops make to the community. The mutual sector could highlight its contribution to society by creating a central registry of community support. Similarly, the mutual sector needs to measure, and promote, its contribution to the building of social capital which, in addition to the economic contribution described above,
contributes to community wellbeing and resilience.
3) Government ministers and government departments should pay greater
attention to the benefits to consumers and communities that flow from cooperatives.
A copy of Who knew Australians were so co-operative? can be downloaded from www.tai.org.au under ‘Publications’.